The number of people eligible for Social Security benefits is growing at such a rapid pace that local offices are struggling to handle the case loads, and upstate retirees are suffering the consequences.
That's the conclusion of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, who spoke to reporters about the problem during a conference call Wednesday afternoon. He said that without immediate intervention, wait times at Social Security field offices in upstate New York would get even worse.
“Upstate New York’s seniors and those waiting for a disability hearing are sick and tired of listening to hold music instead of speaking with a real live human Social Security specialist,” Schumer said.
Staffers in Social Security field offices help seniors and those living with disabilities to apply for benefits, replace lost Social Security numbers or Medicare cards, apply for retirement benefits, report changes in their address, and seek advice on how to get the most out of their earned Social Security and Medicare benefits.
In the past six months, Schumer said New York field offices took over 500,000 calls but were only able to answer about 75 percent.
It takes an average of 712 days to process a disability appeal in Rochester.
Schumer said that the need for more funding to reduce backlogs and waiting times is most evidently displayed by the estimate that thousands of people died last year while waiting for a disability determination.
“It’s not the staff’s fault but speaks to a lack of resources and investment in the SSA which is hurting seniors and those living with disabilities," Schumer said. "That is why I fought so hard to secure $480 million in new federal funding to alleviate the egregious wait times and staffing issues at Social Security field offices."
That money was part of the recently passed omnibus spending bill, which includes $280 million for IT modernization and $100 million for reducing the disability hearings backlog.
On Wednesday, he called on federal officials to act quickly to deliver that money so that offices could begin dealing with backlogs.
Schumer said that since 2010, Congress has cut SSA’s operating budget by 11 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, leading to the loss of more than 3,500 field office staff, the closing of 65 field offices, including 12 in New York, and reduced hours at offices across the country.