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By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads across the nation, the
Social Security Administration (SSA) and other federal agencies strive to cope with
meeting the huge challenges they face resulting from the unexpected pandemic
outbreak, attempting to juggle worker safety while maintaining their daily
On March 19, Key House Democratic and Republican Committee Chairs
send a clear message to SSA as to the importance of minimizing any disruptions
to its operations during the coronavirus crisis. Throughout its 85-year
history, Social Security recipients (seniors, families who have lost a
breadwinner, and people with disabilities) have never missed getting their
Keeping this in mind, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman
Richard E. Neal (D-MA) and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX), along with Social
Security Subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT), Ranking Member Tom Reed (R-NY),
Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) and
Ranking Member Jackie Walorski (R-IN), sent a letter on March 19 to Social
Security Administration (SSA) Commissioner Andrew Saul calling on the agency to
continue their work to prioritize health and transparency in an effort to
minimize disruptions as they administer vital services during the coronavirus
“We know the decision to close SSA field offices…was a difficult
decision. … This move will save lives and will also protect the health of SSA
frontline staff, whose public service is so critical,” the key House lawmakers
“We understand that as coronavirus spreads, you are prioritizing
work that fulfills SSA’s core mission,” the letter continued. “We fully support
“We are writing to urge the Social Security Administration (SSA)
to vigorously safeguard the health of the public and agency employees during
the coronavirus crisis, while also minimizing disruptions in services to the
American people,” stated the House lawmakers.
“Telework is a commonsense response to coronavirus and we urge you
to maximize its use across SSA. In addition, we encourage SSA to communicate
regularly and robustly with the public and with its employees about SSA’s coronavirus
response. Social Security is a program that affects the lives of all Americans.
As SSA’s response to coronavirus evolves, the public must be able to count on
timely information about how to access benefits and services, including
assistance when a problem arises.”
The members emphasized that that they stand ready to work with the
agency to ensure it has the resources and authority it needs to operate
effectively during the crisis while ensuring SSA remains able to send benefits
on time each month.
COVID-19 Changes Way SSA Does Business
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way SSA does business across
the nation. As of Tuesday, March 17, SSA closed all local Social Security
offices for in-person service. SSA says that this decision protects the
population it services — older Americans and people with underlying medical
conditions—and its employees during the crisis.
But SSA employees remain at their cubicles, the processing of
benefits and claims continues. However, critical services can be accessed
online. The agency directed the pubic to visit its website (https://www.ssa.gov/)
or its toll-free number, 800-772-1213 for customer service.
You can apply for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits
online, check the status of an application or appeal, request a replacement
Social Security card (in most areas), print a benefit verification letter, and
much more – from anywhere and from any of your devices.
According to SSA, there is also a wealth of information to answer
most of your Social Security questions online, without having to speak with an
SSA employee in person or by phone.
Visit Frequently Asked Questions at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ask.
However, those persons who are blind or terminally ill, or need
SSI or Medicaid eligibility issues resolved related to work status can obtain
in person services in local offices.
SSA also provides COVID-19 related information and customer service updates on a special website (https://www.ssa.gov/coronavirus/)
According to a March 19 blog posting by the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), “The Ways and Means committee leaders suggest SSA allow employees to telework where possible, in accordance with federal guidelines. National Committee senior legislative representative (and former 35-year SSA employee) Webster Phillips says the agency’s teleworking capabilities have been diminished since Andrew Saul came on board as administrator – and will take time and resources to build back up.”
The NCPSSM’s blog posting noted, “SSA will discontinue several of
its normal activities in order to prioritize beneficiaries’ needs. “There are
workloads that they’re not going to process while this is going on, focusing
exclusively on paying benefits,” says Phillips. Those include stopping all
Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) and curtailing eligibility
re-determinations for SSI recipients.”
Finally, “SSA also has discontinued in-person disability hearings
to protect the health of claimants and employees. Instead, those hearings will
take place via telephone or video conference, where possible,” adds the blog
The Bottom Line…
On March 19, SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul,
issued a statement to assure the 65 million Social Security recipients that SSA
payments will continued to be processed. He stated, “The first thing you should
know is that we continue to pay benefits.” But Saul warned, “Be aware that
scammers may try to trick you into thinking the pandemic is stopping your
Social Security payments but that is not true. Don’t be fooled.”
The United States Postal Service has so far experienced only minor operational impacts in the United States as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, with Saul’s assurances and the postal service still delivering mail, you can expect to get your benefits.
Published in the Woonsocket Call on March 22, 2020
Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer
covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge:
Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly
commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.