WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees said it was hopeful that President Barack Obama’s nomination of Carolyn W. Colvin as permanent Social Security Commissioner would encourage a debate on how to best serve the needs of Americans who receive Social Security benefits.
AFGE Social Security Council 220 President Witold Skwierczynski commended Colvin for her record of increasing communication between the SSA and the union and for her refusal to furlough employees during 2013’s sequestration budget battle. He expressed reservations, however, regarding SSA’s Vision 2025 plan.
“Her decisions to close field offices in many cases without prior justification and to stop the distribution of essential documents at field offices will place unnecessary burdens on the public,” said Skwierczynski. “Americans rely on their Social Security field office for much more than just filing an application for benefits.”
The Vision 2025 plan would ultimately close 1,250 field offices across the country. The 43 million Americans who visited those field offices in 2013 would be forced to go exclusively to the SSA website or automated phone line. Already, SSA has closed 73 field offices, slashed hours, and curtailed key services at field offices.
Skwierczynski said that customers have the right to choose how they receive service, whether in-person, on the phone or website. In-person customer service representatives are critical to answering complex benefits questions and ensuring that customers receive the full benefits they have earned.
“Americans need the expertise of the staff there in order to make informed decisions about their financial future,” said Skwierczynski. “We congratulate Ms. Colvin on the appointment and look forward to working with her in order to provide the highest quality service to the American public.”
In addition to accelerating field office closures, the agency is planning to eliminate Social Security Number Printouts (Numi-Lites) and Benefit Verification Services beginning Aug. 1 and Oct. 1, respectively. Last year, 11 million Americans visited field offices for these two services alone, which are used for mortgage applications, car loans, housing assistance, job applications, and other purposes.
Skwierczynski said that the SSA should not diminish, but rather expand its customer service offerings to meet the needs of the tens of millions of baby-boomers set to enter retirement over the next decade.