AARP (formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons), the largest public interest group for seniors in the U.S., is flexing its muscle (and the muscle of its more than 38 million members) to put pressure on the Social Security Administration (SSA) to improve its customer service.
In a blog post on AARP.org, the organization says they want to see the agency make customer service a top priority in the operating plan the SSA must submit to Congress this month.
As we wrote about in our November newsletter, data the Social Security Administration recently provided to Congress shows that nearly 20% of the field offices have had 40 or more customers in line on multiple days.
There have been reports that people have slept in line outdoors all night at some field offices to get a favorable place in line the next morning.
This is especially troublesome for our most at-risk population—people with disabilities. The lengthy pandemic office closures caused applications for disability benefits to plummet. (In fact, the data show that SSDI awards to workers who developed disabilities fell 15% in 2021, which is in addition to an 11% drop in 2020). However, the average wait time to process initial disability decisions now stands at an all-time high of 198 days.
In the past year, Social Security blamed deteriorating customer service on staffing shortages and insufficient budgets. Acknowledging “delays in service and long waits for disability decisions,” the Social Security Administration asked for a huge bump in funding.
Congress and the Biden Administration responded and approved a $785 million budget increase for the SSA.
However, despite this budget boost, Acting Social Security Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi warned lawmakers that the SSA’s service is likely to get worse before it gets better. In a letter to Congress, she said she expects phone service and delays in disability decisions to further deteriorate this year.
“Some performance measures will show improvement in [fiscal] 2023, while others may show temporary degradation [and] we expect that improved customer wait times and increased employee capacity may not be fully realized until FY 2024.”
We at Nash Disability Law along with AARP and other advocates for people with disabilities say it is time for the agency to step up and deliver better service to the millions of Americans who rely on the Social Security benefits they paid for and have rightfully earned.