Hearing calls on Social Security to account for customer service issues
A key congressional committee finally held a long-awaited hearing this week on customer service issues with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee had been calling for such a hearing for months, and on Tuesday, the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security convened it.
“We are holding this important hearing today to highlight and highlight the challenges of customer service at the Social Security Administration, during the COVID-19 pandemic and ahead of 2020,” said Rep. John Larson (D-CT), chairman of the subcommittee. in his opening statement at the hearing.
“We have all heard stories from our constituents and high profile articles across the country about Americans struggling to access benefits and services as field offices were closed during the pandemic due to health concerns and security. We also heard from employees and union members.
Social Security offices were closed for more than two years due to the pandemic, finally reopening in April. But there are still frequent complaints about long wait times and other customer service issues.
Larson added that some committee members sent a letter to President Biden calling for a new “beneficiary advocate” position at the SSA. Three senators sent the president a similar letter in March.
The congressman added that while the SSA is a very effective agency, “it cannot be effective without more funding.”
Among the witnesses was Grace Kim, the SSA’s deputy commissioner of operations.
“As a former Regional Commissioner and career employee with over 30 years of service with SSA, I know how essential SSA programs and services are to the public. I also understand that ensuring better access to our services, whether in person, online or by phone, is critical,” Kim said, according to a transcript of her testimony.
“While many customers have embraced the convenience of online or telephone service, it’s not an option for everyone or for every type of service. We were acutely aware that we were not fully meeting the needs of people who face barriers or require in-person service to conduct their business. From the outset, we knew we had to restore in-person services when it was safe and after meeting our work obligations,” Kim added.
Republicans on the committee also weighed in, including Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK), who made his own opening statement.
“SSA’s administrative budget is made up of a combination of money from trust funds and general revenue for SSI and other workloads. While the Social Security trust funds now have a large surplus, this surplus has been accumulated over four decades and is expected to be depleted in just over 10 years, which means that every dollar in the trust fund spent to administer the programs is a dollar that cannot be paid out in benefits. This brings us one dollar closer to depleting the trust fund,” he said.
“Similarly, every general revenue dollar spent under the SSA budget is a dollar taken from a hard-working taxpayer and cannot be used to pay for other priorities, including benefits. It is important to ensure that these dollars are spent effectively.
Stephen Silver, technology editor for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who also contributes to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and connect today. Co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.