Warner urges flexibility for Social Security recipients
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner is urging Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul to consider freezing Social Security garnishment actions and focus on providing timely responses to those who are having their Social Security payments withheld during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SSA operates a network of more than 1,200 offices around the country, which have been closed since March 17.
“I write today to urge the Social Security Administration to offer leniency and accommodations during the ongoing public health crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19. Local Social Security offices have been closed to in-person visits since March 17. This has limited access for vulnerable Americans. Many Americans cannot use online services either because they do not have an internet connection at their residence or they lack access to public internet services because most non-essential businesses across the country are closed,” Sen. Warner wrote in a letter to Commissioner Saul that went out on Tuesday.
While services have continued through the agency’s toll-free line and website, Sen. Warner’s office has heard from a number of Virginians who are unable to receive timely assistance from SSA due to the lack of in-person services.
When offices are not closed, SSA fields 33 million calls annually through its National 800 Number and long wait times are typical. In Fiscal Year 2019, SSA’s offices were fully open and phone lines were still busy 14 percent of the time.
“Many report having filed reconsiderations and appeals before March 17 with no word from their local office that the paperwork has been received, let alone that it is being processed. Others report that their previously scheduled hearings with Administrative Law Judges have been canceled. At a time when businesses are laying off workers, these individuals will struggle to find even supplemental employment while they wait for their applications to be adjudicated,” continued Sen. Warner.
In his letter, Sen. Warner calls on the agency to issue a temporary emergency suspension of garnishment actions that would allow SSA to protect its employees while ensuring Americans dependent on SSA decisions are not adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Last week, Sen. Warner successfully pushed the U.S. Treasury to ensure that all Social Security beneficiaries will automatically receive the direct payment assistance included in the CARES Act without having to file tax returns.