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Kadner: Social Security plans office service cuts

The Social Security Administratihas been unclear about its plans reduce services its offices throughout country.  |  File photo

The Social Security Administration has been unclear about its plans to reduce services at its offices throughout the country. | File photo

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Updated: January 14, 2014 12:23PM



In a move that one congressional staff member calls “absolutely devastating” to senior citizens and the poor, the Social Security Administration is planning to eliminate some walk-in office services.

In a letter sent to employee union officials this month, the SSA announced that as of April 1, it will no longer provide benefit verification letters to citizens at its local offices or Social Security number print-outs, which can be used as temporary identification while people wait to replace a lost or misplaced Social Security card.

The letter indicates that members of the public can still obtain benefit verification letters online or by calling a toll-free number.

“We have senior citizens come into our office in need of a Social Security payment verification all of the time in order to qualify for (federal) low-income heating assistance in the winter,” said Jerry Mulvihill, senior case worker for U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-3rd. “Many of our seniors, I’m talking about 80-year-old people, do not have access to a computer at home and absolutely will not use a computer.

“We tell them to go to the local Social Security office, and they can obtain a verification letter that states how much money they’re getting from SSA. The federal heating program requires monthly verification letters.

“This change would be absolutely devastating to the poor and senior citizens. I had not heard about this, but Congressman Lipinski’s office will be looking into this right way.”

Mulvihill runs one of the best constituent-service offices in the Chicago area and has spent decades helping Chicago and Southland residents.

Jill Hornick, a union representative for the Social Security Administration Field Operations Local, said she believes the SSA’s initiative is aimed at eventually closing its field offices and eliminating jobs.

“This is not a cost-saving measure,” Hornick said, “because our people are already in the offices working, and all this really requires is the push of a button to print out an 8.5-by-10-inch piece of paper. I can tell you that our local offices receive calls all the time from nursing homes asking for verification of Social Security benefits for elderly people.”

As for the Social Security number printout, Hornick said the state’s unemployment office creates one of the biggest demands for the document.

“When people apply for unemployment benefits at the unemployment office, they send a lot of them to us for proof they have a Social Security number because people often have misplaced or lost their Social Security cards,” she said. “We also have people sent to us by employers who want to verify that these people have Social Security numbers.

“An employer doesn’t want to wait for a week or more a lot of times, and they want proof the day they’re going to hire the person. The person wants the job. So this is a service that is quite valuable to them.”

In its letter to the union, the Social Security Administration’s director for labor-management and employee relations, Celene Coburn Wilson, says “this document (number printout) is not an official verification of an individual’s SSN (Social Security number) as it does not contain security features and is easily duplicated, misused, shared illegally, or counterfeited.

“For individuals needing their SSN card, they can apply for it, with the required evidence, in one of our field offices or Social Security Card Centers. The agency will have an exception process to provide SSN Printouts in dire need situations.”

Wilson states that before implementing these changes, “the agency will do extensive outreach nationally to reach local communities. Field offices will display prominent signage, include a message on the website and publicize these changes in local media outlets.”

Hornick points out that the Department of Homeland Security began operating an Internet-based site for employers to verify the Social Security eligibility of newly hired employees some years ago.

But the Illinois Legislature in 2007 amended state law to prohibit private employers from using the E-Verify system until the federal government made specific improvements to the accuracy of the databases to decrease the number of work authorization denials to people who were eligible to work in the U.S.

A federal challenge to the legislation eventually resulted in a federal court striking down the portion of the law that prohibited Illinois employers from using E-Verify.

However, the Legislature then passed another amendment to state law, effective Jan. 1, 2010, that places statutory obligations on employers that use E-Verify. They are now required to complete a sworn attestation at the time of the E-Verify enrollment in a form available from the Illinois Department of Labor.

“The restrictions are so harsh that many employers in Illinois won’t use E-Verify,” Hornick said. “That’s why people seeking employment keep coming to us for letters verifying their Social Security registration.”

Hornick claims that SSA employees have been told by their supervisors that people who don’t have a computer in their homes should be encouraged to use a computer at a public library.

“That’s the worst sort of advice you can give people because public computers are not secure, and this is very sensitive personal information, about Social Security numbers and Social Security payments,” Hornick said. “Most libraries, in fact, have notices on their computers warning people not to use them to transmit or receive sensitive personal information because they are not secure.

“This is a solution instituted by some bureaucrats sitting in an office in Baltimore who don’t have any idea how things work in the real world,” Hornick said. “We need our local congressional offices to ask the SSA officials for an explanation.”

That would be U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush, D-1st, Robin Kelly, D-2nd, and Lipinski in the Southland.

Someone ought to check this out before it becomes another Washington “computer glitch.”



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