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GRAND RAPIDS November 24, 2014– Could the Social Security Administration be considering a plan to shutter all of its field offices nationwide, just as baby boomers hit retirement age? All signs point to “yes.” Last week the Kent-Ionia Labor Council passed a resolution standing with members of AFGE in their fight against the proposed cuts.
The situation first came to light this past summer when news of a Congressional report surfaced which proposed a long-range strategic vision for the federal agency, and it points to a future where face-to-face interactions with highly-trained federal employees will give way to online transactions and outsourced labor.
RJ Eskow from the Campaign for America’s Future sums up the report:
For most of its four pages the document’s runic language artfully dodges the question at hand, preferring instead to inform the public of such need-to-know information as the fact that “we embrace change and reward managed risk.” It is not until the final page that the bomb is dropped, surrounded by a cloud of verbal decoys. The key phrase: “Our communication and business practices enable a dispersed workforce that is no longer working in centralized, traditional offices.”
“Centralized, traditional offices.” Or, as the rest of the world calls them, “offices.”
The document suggests that Social Security’s administrative functions will be transferred online, allowing for human contact only “in very limited circumstances.” Even in those cases it appears that the default options will be telephone calls and online chats, together with rare meetings with personnel who may be housed in the offices of other agencies…
Privatization is also a possibility according to Eskow.
One of the bitter ironies of the bipartisan austerity craze has been the fact that, while there has been an assault on government jobs, there has been an equal or greater push to transfer government revenues to the private sector using lucrative, cost-inflating “privatization” contracts.
That seems to be what somebody has in mind for Social Security’s future, too. One of the 29 “vision elements” in the Vision 2025 document states that service delivery should be “integrated across SSA programs and with external partners …” It goes on to state that all support functions for SSA should be “provided through a shared services model (e.g., within SSA, across government, and by contract).” (Emphasis ours.)
What do SSA cuts mean to the general public, specifically here in Grand Rapids? It means dealing with a system that is less responsive to an aging population’s needs, according to AFGE Local 3272 President Rosendo Rocha.
“The public is being bombarded with emails, phone calls and letters encouraging them to file for benefits online,” said Rocha. “This is creating issues for members of the public who have complex questions that the online application cannot address properly. Members of the public are selecting the wrong options and end up losing out on potential money since they made a bad choice.”
Rocha suggests people go to SocialSecurityWorks.org to find out more about the fight to keep Social Security offices open.
“I advise all union members to look at this website to find events that are happening in their communities. I also ask that everyone contact their Congressman and Senators if they hear their local office is closing.”
KICLC Resolution on the Social Security Administration’s Plan to Eliminate Field Offices by 2025
WHEREAS the Social Security Administration is considering a long term strategic plan that calls for the drastic reduction in the number of offices open to the public and the elimination of thousands of union members jobs across the country; and
WHEREAS the Plan would cutback dramatically face-to-face service essential to assuring beneficiaries that they receive every penny they are due in benefits; and
WHEREAS the only option the plan would offer beneficiaries and applicants who need assistance would be a computer terminal despite the fact that millions of older Americans do not use computers or have no access to broad band and would have great difficulty navigating the complex online program; and
WHEREAS SSA unionized employees have identified and fought against SSA’s online application flaws that can cause workers to get lower benefits than they have rightfully earned, and
WHEREAS working Americans have paid for and have the right to expect high quality personal service when questions arise concerning the eligibility for benefits, the benefit amount or advice on the best time to retire in order to maximize income in retirement; and
WHEREAS the services provided by Social Security field offices such as benefit verification letters and Social Security Number printouts are required by millions of beneficiaries for many reasons such as employment, loans and rental assistance; and
WHEREAS SSA has always been a source of well-paid union jobs across the country in the field offices, the state disability offices and the construction trades unions who build and maintain SSA offices and tele-centers around the country; be it therefore
RESOLVED that the Kent-Ionia Labor Council supports AFGE’s campaign to persuade SSA to revise its “Vision 2025” strategic plan and instead adopt a plan that assures American workers and retirees they will receive the highest quality service SSA can provide.