Social Security Offices are Overwhelmed by Mail, and Customers are Exasperated

September 10, 2021

A recent interim investigative report from the Social Security Office of the Inspector General (OIG) sharply criticized the Social Security Administration (SSA) for its failure to properly process mail to and from the agency. As part of its investigation, the OIG visited 73 Social Security locations, including field offices, program service centers, and Social Security card centers. What they found were shocking deficiencies in processing mailed applications and requests for Social Security cards. 

Some inadequacies cited by the report include:

  • One program service center had more than 9,000 unprocessed documents dating back to November 2020. Some of those documents were required for eligibility for benefit payments.
  • One field office had 677 unprocessed applications dating back to July 2020.
  • Another program service center had more than 9,000 unprocessed replacement card applications going back as far as May 2021.
  • Hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail were returned to agency offices as undeliverable—“some of which were over one year old.” In some cases, undeliverable mail may trigger the suspension or termination of a beneficiary’s payments.

There were other problems identified by the investigators, such as backlogs of remittances or unnegotiated benefit checks, and storage policies that left mail unsecured, which could leave private information exposed.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the Social Security Administration to suspend in-person services in March 2020. Most Social Security offices have been in a maximum telework stance, which has forced Social Security customers to mail original copies of sensitive documents including driver’s licenses and birth certificates. The OIG report says the SSA does not have policies or procedures to track and return original documents that customers send to provide proof that they are eligible for benefits or a Social Security card. Inadequate mail handling by the agency has led to a backlog of thousands of customers’ original documents and thousands of unprocessed applications for Social Security cards. Customers are furious and complaining to their elected officials.

“We believe these deficiencies occurred because SSA does not have comprehensive, specific or detailed policies, management information, or performance metrics related to how it processes mail,” the report states. “Without this information, the SSA cannot know how much unprocessed mail it has, what is in the mail, or how old the mail is.”

The inspector general said it will publish a final report on these issues, and other matters related to Social Security’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, by the end of the year. In the meantime, the agency said Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi has ordered a number of changes to better manage mail flow, and ended the policy of requiring customers to send the original versions of identifying documents like driver’s licenses.