Doors to the Social Security Administration’s field office in Minneapolis were locked at 3 p.m. yesterday, and they could stay locked permanently – in Minneapolis and at field offices across the country – if the federal agency gets its way.
That’s the warning sounded by federal workers rallying on the street outside the Chicago Avenue office yesterday.
About 200 members of the American Federation of Government Employees, holding a convention in Minneapolis this week, rallied with federal lawmakers and local retirees, raising awareness of Social Security’s plan to close hundreds of local offices just as the number of Social Security-eligible Americans is about to hit its peak.
Already, the Social Security Administration has closed 80 community offices nationwide, AFGE President David Cox told demonstrators, and “they’re looking to shutdown all the rest.”
A report released earlier this year by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging found the agency had shed 11,000 workers and closed 553 contact stations over the previous three years, and “had reduced or eliminated a variety of in-person services” at a time when Baby Boomers are filing claims in record numbers.
Social Security provides financial assistance to elderly, disabled, widowed and orphaned Americans, “people who through no fault of their own cannot provide for themselves,” Cox said. AFGE members who staff Social Security offices – and the Americans who rely on them – are baffled by dwindling federal support for “the most popular government program in our nation’s history.”
Social Security Administration officials have said office closures and staff cuts are part of a plan, known as Vision 2025, to transition most of the agency’s face-to-face services online and to call centers. But the plan does not sit well with Social Security beneficiaries like Marie Milsten-Fiedler of Minneapolis, who called it “pennywise and pound foolish.”
“Not all of us have the ability to pay for computers or Internet access,” Milsten-Fiedler said. Filing for benefits “is a major life changing event. It is extremely stressful, and folks should not be stuck alone in front of a computer screen. People should be available to help us through it.”
Professionals also are needed to protect against Social Security fraud. Milsten-Fiedler said she had to show several forms of identification in order to begin receiving her Social Security benefits. “How’s that going to happen over the Internet?” she asked.
Dana Duggins, an officer with the AFGE’s Social Security branch, said 95 percent of claims submitted over the Internet result in error, and reports of fraud are on the rise.
“We think the agency has put the cart before the horse,” Duggins said. “They don’t have the safeguards in place to protect the public. What’s worse is that Social Security staff are expected to push this system, knowing that it is hurting the American public.”
As the rally proceeded, several people approached the Social Security office, only to turn around after seeing the “Closed” sign. Before the rally began, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison told demonstrators, he encountered a woman who had traveled by bus to the office from Plymouth, “which I’m telling you is not close.”
“We need to make sure people who need Social Security have an open door when they show up to get Social Security,” the Minneapolis DFLer said. “If they can give a big tax cut loophole to some oil company, then they can open this office.”
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland also attended the rally. He thanked activists for standing up on behalf of “millions of people who worked hard, who made America great, who invested in the Social Security program and want to walk through that door during normal working hours.”