As Senior Population in Region Grows SSA Closes Office & Proposes Cutting Hours
Following a meeting with top Social Security Administration (SSA) officials and a letter to SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue where Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) was critical of the announcement that the SSA plans to reduce hours at local Social Security Offices beginning November 5, 2007, the Congressman has learned that the SSA has postponed initiation of the pilot project. News of plan to reduce hours comes just weeks after the SSA closed an office in Erie County.
“I hope that the Social Security Administration takes this time to reexamine their policy and recognize the people in this region can’t afford more cuts in services,” said Higgins. “Instead of just cutting hours and closing offices haphazardly, the Social Security Administration should be improving face-to-face service to meet the needs of the growing social security population in Western New York,” Higgins said.
In a move that would further limit public access to caseworkers at field office in WNY, the SSA announced plans to embark on a pilot program in 5 cities, including the Buffalo region, where public hours in field office will be limited. Under the rule, offices in Buffalo, West Seneca, Amherst and Niagara Falls would close to the public every Wednesday at 1pm. The pilot was scheduled to begin on November 5, 2007, but shortly after the meeting today Congressman Higgins was notified that the SSA would hold off on plans for reduced hours until March 1, 2008.
Rep. Higgins expressed his strong opposition to the pilot program at a meeting with top Social Security Administration officials today in the Capitol. “I have 135,000 citizens in my district alone who receive Social Security benefits. These citizens have been paying into the Social Security system for most of the lives and deserve the basic dignity to have their questions answered face-to-face with field office staff.” Congressman Higgins said. “Internet and phone service is simply not adequate and citizens shouldn’t be forced to buy a computer to have questions answered.”
This is the latest blow in a string of cutbacks at SSA offices in the area. Last month the SSA merged the Cheektowaga and West Seneca offices, limiting the availability of field office staff in these two towns that have some of the highest numbers of senior populations in the state.
Rep. Higgins has also called on the Social Security Commissioner to address the critical staffing shortage in Western New York offices before any further cuts in public access are made. In a letter sent to the Commissioner today Congressman Higgins pointed out the existing severe backload of Social Security Disability cases, “According to press reports, the Buffalo office alone has an estimated 14,700 cases waiting for an appeal, and about 8,000 of those have been pending for more than a year. I believe this is a troubling trend, and I would also urge you to expeditiously consider proposals to increase the number of Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and affiliated staff to assist in processing these claims,” wrote Higgins.