U.S. Reps. John Katko, Elise Stefanik and other members of Congress are questioning the Social Security Administration about its operations during the COVID-19 pandemic and how it's making it easier for people to submit required documentation while field offices remain closed.
More than 1,500 Social Security field offices — including locations in Syracuse, Geneva and Oswego — have been closed for more than a year due to the pandemic. Katko, R-Camillus, and Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, along with three of their colleagues — U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson, Abigail Spanberger and Lauren Underwood — are concerned about the impact on people who need to show certain documents, such as a driver's license, for Social Security claims.
With the closure of field offices, the members of Congress said the Social Security Administration has been requiring individuals to mail licenses and other documents to the field office. If they mail a driver's license, they wouldn't have that important identification for an unknown period of time. But if they don't submit the necessary documents, they could stall their claims process.
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The Social Security Administration has been experimenting with alternatives to in-person visits at field offices. According to the representatives, the agency started using drop boxes and online meetings for people who need to show driver's licenses, passports and other original documents.
"We welcomed the news that SSA has begun piloting different approaches for the public to show their original documents without having to mail them to the field office," Katko and his colleagues wrote in a letter to Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul. "Drop boxes, express appointments, and online meetings all have the potential to remedy this hardship without undermining the integrity of a claim's processing procedure."
In the letter, Katko and the members of Congress acknowledged the advantages and disadvantages of the pilot programs. Online appointments may be an option in an urban area, they explained, but it might not be available in a rural area without internet access.
The letter also included four questions for Saul about the field offices and the evaluation of the pilot programs. One of the questions is if the agency plans to continue to the programs after the field offices open.
"During these unprecedented times, we have to create better workarounds," Katko said in a statement. "I'm urging the SSA to implement new and flexible approaches that allow central New Yorkers to process their claims and access vital services without having to part with their important documents."
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.