Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans President Mike McCarthy (retired AFSCME), Vice President Kay Pence (retired CWA), Secretary Jan Corderman (retired AFSCME), and Treasurer Ken Sagar (retired IBEW and Iowa AFL-CIO President Emeritus) co-authored this commentary.
Years of cuts to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) funding have caused reductions in service. Since 2010, SSA’s national 1-800 number staff shrank by 12 percent even as call volume grew 6 percent. As those staffing cuts started to go into effect, about 10,000 Baby Boomers started reaching retirement age every day. That trend is expected to continue until 2030.
Not everyone retires when they first become eligible, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many seniors into retirement earlier than they planned. Compounding those problems, the pandemic forced local Social Security offices across the country to stop in-person appointments.
Countless seniors have had to rely on virtual and phone options to try to get answers on their benefits. That meant more busy signals, more hang-ups, longer waits, and fewer calls answered. Seniors are spending hours on hold, experiencing extreme delays in the processing of their retirement, survivor, and disability claims, or even reaching someone through the 1-800 hotline.
U.S. Representative Cindy Axne has received hundreds of calls from extremely frustrated older Iowans trying to reach the Social Security offices. She recognizes that spending hours on hold with an automated voicemail is the opposite of what our seniors should be doing with their time. Staff at local SSA offices are trying their best, but they need more support to provide the level of service these Americans deserve. Axne is determined to get them the support they need.
That is why the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans is so thankful for the important legislation Axne introduced last month. The “Meeting our Seniors’ Social Security Needs Act” would increase the number of staff SSA dedicates to answering phone calls at the 1-800 number and at local offices.
By requiring all calls to be answered from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday, we can help ensure local staff have the support they need, and everyday Americans can reach someone when they have questions about or problems with their earned Social Security benefits.
SSA is funded the same way Social Security benefits are — with payroll taxes that all workers pay. It does not add one penny to the deficit. We should be able to access the benefits we’ve paid for when we need them most.
Thank you, Representative Axne, for drawing attention to this serious issue. Iowa retirees are grateful. We are calling on the rest of Iowa’s Congressional delegation—Representatives Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, and Randy Feenstra—to support Axne’s “Meeting our Seniors’ Social Security Needs Act” to increase the number of staff answering our calls.