Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has put serious restrictions on the in-person services it offers. This is, of course, in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, protecting both employees and the public at large. It has been difficult, however, for those looking for SSA assistance. The SSA has made some adjustments to try and make accommodations for those looking for assistance, but, two years into the pandemic, everyone is wondering more than ever when SSA offices will be reopening.
The Reopening of Social Security Offices
With SSA closing its offices across the U.S., it looked for alternate ways to offer assistance to the public. For instance, at most field offices, boxes were provided for people to drop off primary documents that are required to verify identity. These documents include things such as birth certificates, green cards, and more.
There are, however, several problems with this method of document gathering. First is the fact that 40% of the offices didn’t even have this dropbox option and those that did were often only open for one hour per day. Second of all, these sensitive documents, once dropped off, need to then be scanned into computer systems by managers and then assigned to work-from-home claims processors. Once this is done, the original documents must then be returned to claimants. This document loop, however, clearly leaves much room for error and documents are all too often not returned or take a significant amount of time to be returned.
The SSA has been receiving a great deal of pressure, particularly from congressional Republicans to both improve services offered during the pandemic and also to bring its staff back to in-person work. As of January 2022, Senate Democrats have also expressed similar concerns about when SSA offices would be reopening. Most SSA employees have been working from home since March 2020 despite most other government employees already returning to in-person work.
The SSA made an announcement in January that, pursuant to an agreement reached with its major unions, there would be a return of open field offices this Spring. It is expected that this will happen around mid-April. This agreement was the product of months of contentious bargaining between officials on both sides. The start of the re-opening process is likely to include available appointment times and walk-in visit hours. Disabled and elderly claimants often rely on such in-person appointments as they can have trouble managing the claims process via the Internet or phone. Administrative law judges who hear the appeals of denied disability benefits claims are also expected to return to in-person hearings in May or June.
In the meantime, as we wait for SSA field offices to reopen, the SSA has announced that they are expanding the dropbox option by increasing open hours and the number of offices that have drop boxes.
Los Angeles Disability Attorney
Trying to navigate the ins and outs of the SSA can be frustrating enough in the best of times. The restrictions on in-person assistance have made it even more stressful. Fortunately, you can count on Disability Advocates to help you every step of the way. Contact us today.