Kadner: Social Security cost-cutting gone bad
By Phil Kadner email@example.com February 7, 2014 8:44PM
The Social Security Administration has been unclear about its plans to reduce services at its offices throughout the country. | File photo
Updated: February 13, 2014 9:40AM
This is why people hate government bureaucracies.
In December, I wrote a column about plans by the Social Security Administration to eliminate some walk-in office services by April 1.
Those services were benefit verification letters (for people who need to prove they’re getting the checks) and Social Security number printouts (for people who lost their Social Security cards and await a replacement by mail).
The SSA’s decision was labeled “absolutely devastating” to senior citizens and the poor by a congressional staffer who deals with constituents. U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-3rd, shot off a letter, demanding an explanation from SSA and asking its top honchos to reconsider the decision.
I’ve been trying to get an answer from SSA officials in Washington, D.C., about their plans ever since, and the response has been complete silence.
This despite a directive to the Social Security Administration from the U.S. Senate and House appropriations committees to delay any action.
“The Commissioner is directed to continue to make SSN Printouts available at field offices through at least July 31, 2014, and Benefit Verification Letters available at field offices through at least Sept. 30, 2014,” the committees stated in writing.
They also directed the SSA to encourage third parties that require these documents to use “alternative means and existing online tools to verify the same information provided in these documents.
“However, concerns remain that third parties will not significantly change their behavior in a short period of time and instead individuals who are expected to provide these documents, for a variety of purposes, will be adversely impacted.”
I will translate: The little guy will get screwed.
Also, the president of the union representing Social Security workers sent the following email to a regional director of the Social Security Administration: “Employees are being required to give the public false information that SSA is discontinuing vital customer services of SSN verification and benefit verification effective Feb. 1, 2014.”
The union leader, Witold Skwierczynski, wrote that the “service discontinuation has been suspended indefinitely. It is highly inappropriate to involve the employees in this attempt to discourage the public from demanding services that they are entitled to receive from SSA.”
He notes that the SSA has failed to give its employees or the public any notice about the decision to continue services.
I have tried several times to get an update from the Social Security Administration on it plans.
Are the services going to be discontinued as planned back in December? Will there be a delay until the summer?
I asked people in Lipinski’s office if they had heard anything and was told they have been trying to get a definitive response from SSA for several weeks without success.
It seems pretty clear to me that someone high up in the bureaucracy decided to eliminate these in-office services to save some money, although no one has been able to explain how much money would be saved.
SSA employees tell me it takes less than a minute to print out a verification of a Social Security number for someone at their office who’s applying for a new card. I’m told the benefit verification letter can be printed out almost as quickly.
I suppose the idea is to eventually cut some jobs at Social Security offices and maybe even shut some of them down.
SSA employees were at one point instructed to have people use the Internet for these services. When it was pointed out to executives that many poor people can’t afford computers in their homes, the SSA workers were instructed to tell them to go to their public library and use a computer there.
Most librarians would tell people not to enter personal financial information into a public computer because, well, it can be stolen. Getting hold of someone’s Social Security number is a great way to steal their identity.
Maybe the top officials of the Social Security Administration don’t understand this. Maybe they don’t care.
But I would like to hear their explanation of how this plan to get everyone using the Internet would work, especially when some people can’t afford Internet service.
Here’s how I see the entire scheme as it has played out.
The SSA bureaucrats made a bad decision and didn’t want to hear complaints about it from the public, employees or the news media. So they did their best to avoid any publicity about the planned cuts in service.
When Social Security employees told people about the plans, the agency started getting heat from Congress.
So the SSA agreed to back off its plans but decided not to tell the public about that, while encouraging employees to hint to customers that these office services were going to end soon (even if that was not the truth).
And when I called to get an official explanation of what was happening, a decision was made not to respond because, well, the government doesn’t want the public to know what’s going on.
In theory, of course, the people at the Social Security Administration are public servants, our employees, and they should be accountable for their decisions and actions.
In reality, we all know that’s often not the case.
That’s why it’s really difficult to contradict people who say that taxpayer money is wasted and the government can’t be trusted.
If there’s a plan to cut services, tell the public. If not, make that clear.
I don’t expect an explanation of how this policy decision was made. I realize someone at the top was just trying to cut costs and couldn’t be bothered with the details.