Spanberger Leads Bipartisan Effort Pushing Social Security Administration to Fix Document Submission Issues Following Field Office Closures, Increase Flexibility

Following the Closure of Social Security Administration Offices Amid COVID-19, Many in Central Virginia & Across the Country Have Faced Significant Difficulties with Routine Claims Like Applications for New Social Security Cards

HENRICO, V.A. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger this week led a bipartisan group of her colleagues in calling on the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) to make their document submission process more flexible in the wake of COVID-19-related field office closures.

Prior to the pandemic, SSA field offices provided direct, in-person services to their communities and provided walk-in assistance for those looking to process a claim. Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, more than 1,500 of these field offices have been closed to the public. These closures have created hardships for those who are required to show original documents to process their claims, as the SSA has generally required them to mail original documents to the field office. This mail-in requirement forces many Americans to part with these critical documents — such as driver’s licenses, birth certificates, or death certificates — for an indeterminate amount of time.

In a letter sent to SSA Commissioner Andrew M. Saul, Spanberger and her colleagues called on the agency to address this challenge and make document submission requirements more flexible. Additionally, the Members of Congress called on the SSA to seriously consider expanding an existing pilot program that makes use of drop boxes, express appointments, and online meetings to expedite these claims and prevent unnecessary hardships.

“Prior to their closures, these offices provided direct services to their communities and to about 800,000 visitors per week. Field offices’ flexibility, especially their ability to serve walk-ins, have made them essential resources for their communities and the vulnerable populations they serve,” said Spanberger and her colleagues. “Field office closures have been a particular hardship for our constituents who need to show original documents — such as driver’s licenses, or birth and death certificates — to process their claims.”

Their letter continued, “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. 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. We recognize that of each of these approaches to submit original documents has distinct advantages and disadvantages, and that each community likely requires a different approach or a combination of approaches to meet its needs. For example, an online appointment may be a practical option in an urban area, but not in a rural area that lacks access to reliable internet. A drop box does not address the understandable reluctance many individuals have to part with their driver’s license for an indeterminate period of time.”

Spanberger’s letter was signed by U.S. Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-SD-AL), Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14), John Katko (R-NY-24), and Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21).

“Requiring the mailing of original documents, as the Social Security Administration (SSA) is currently doing, places an unacceptable roadblock on those our government is supposed to serve. SSA should not be forcing people to choose between failing to conduct essential business or going without their driver’s license, birth certificate, or green card. If they trust the mail with their original documents, they could be without them for weeks, given recent disruptions in the U.S. Postal Service. Worse, if these documents become lost in the mail, the burden is even greater,” said Nancy Altman, President, Social Security Works. “Representative Spanberger and her colleagues are to be applauded for looking out for the American people and trying to convince SSA to develop a commonsense alternative.”

Click here to read the full letter, and the full letter text is below.

Dear Commissioner Saul,

We write on behalf of the more than hundreds of thousands of Social Security beneficiaries in our districts to encourage the Social Security Administration (SSA) to demonstrate maximum flexibility in implementing arrangements for constituents to submit required documents while field offices remain closed during the pandemic.

As you know, the more than 1,500 Social Security field offices across the country have been closed to the public now for more than a year. Prior to their closures, these offices provided direct services to their communities and to about 800,000 visitors per week. Field offices’ flexibility, especially their ability to serve walk-ins, have made them essential resources for their communities and the vulnerable populations they serve. 

Field office closures have been a particular hardship for our constituents who need to show original documents – such as driver’s licenses, or birth and death certificates – to process their claims. Since individuals cannot show the documents in person, SSA has generally required them to mail the original documents to the field office. This mail-in requirement presents individuals with a stressful dilemma: either they part with their original documents for an indeterminate period of time, or they risk interrupting their claims’ processing.

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. 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. 

We recognize that of each of these approaches to submit original documents has distinct advantages and disadvantages, and that each community likely requires a different approach or a combination of approaches to meet its needs. For example, an online appointment may be a practical option in an urban area, but not in a rural area that lacks access to reliable internet. A

drop box does not address the understandable reluctance many individuals have to part with their driver’s license for an indeterminate period of time.

With that in mind, please respond to the following at your earliest convenience:

1. How does SSA support field offices’ initiatives and flexibility in offering different pilot programs for the submission of original documents?

2. How does SSA evaluate pilot programs’ successes at facilitating submissions of original documents without undermining the integrity of the claims’ processing?

3. What timeline does SSA envision for expanding the various pilots to closed field offices across the country?

4. When field offices begin to reopen, does SSA plan to maintain these pilot programs for beneficiaries who are unable to visit the field offices in person as well as beneficiaries who appreciate the programs’ increased flexibility?

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter. Your swift action on this issue will help alleviate the concerns of millions of Social Security beneficiaries across the country.

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