Rochester Office Ranked #1 In NYS For Customers That Give Up & Leave Rather Than Waiting For Hours; SSA Workload Continues To Rise As More & More Baby Boomers Retire

Standing At The Town Of Henrietta Senior Center, Schumer Calls For Major Funding Boost For Social Security Agency To Be Sent To Rochester Office

Schumer To SSA: No More Waiting, Fix the Problem—Retirements Are Not Meant To Be Spent In a Waiting Room

Standing at the Town of Henrietta Senior Center, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed that without intervention, Social Security field offices in Upstate New York, including the Rochester field office, could be plagued with even longer wait times if the federal government doesn’t act quickly. According to Schumer, with the retirement of the baby boomers—around 10,000 reaching the age of retirement every day—the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) workload has increased tremendously and therefore wait times have reached unprecedented levels. Schumer said that as this workload has increased significantly, staffing numbers at the Rochester field office have remained flat for a decade. According to the latest 2019 Social Security Administration data, the Rochester field office had the state’s longest average wait time, the greatest amount of customers (614) that instead of waiting gave up and left the office without service, the state’s lowest customer phone call answer rate at 41% and the country’s second longest wait time for a Benefits Hearing at 22 months. Therefore, Schumer launched a major push to secure $100 million to reduce SSA’s Disability Hearings Backlogs and to improve Field Office Operations and wait times, to get resources into the hands of the field offices—like Rochester—that need them most.

“Rochester-Finger Lakes seniors and those waiting for a Social Security hearing are sick and tired of sitting in waiting rooms or listening to hold music while they wait to speak with a Social Security specialist,” said Senator Schumer. “With baby boomers retiring and becoming eligible for Social Security benefits—10,000 reaching the retirement age every day—it’s becoming more and more clear that field offices across Upstate New York are unable to keep up with demand—and the Rochester field office, which has one of the poorest records in the state, is clearly no exception. That’s why I’m vowing to reverse the administration’s proposed cuts to SSA, and instead launching a push for $100 million in new federal funding to alleviate the egregious wait times and staffing issues at Social Security field offices. The simple truth is that Rochester seniors deserve the chance to enjoy their hard-earned retirements, and not be forced to spend them in waiting rooms.”

Schumer explained that as the number of retired Americans has increased over the years, SSA field offices have not received the requisite funding to enable field office staff to keep pace. Schumer explained that because of this, operating hours at field offices, including Rochester, were reduced several times beginning in 2011, and now the Rochester SSA office closes at noon on Wednesdays and at 4:00 PM on the other weekdays. Moreover, the Rochester field office staff levels have remained flat for a decade. Schumer explained that field office staff are overloaded with cases and performing as best as they can but lack adequate resources, which is causing a major negative impact on the operations at Field Offices like Rochester. 

The latest customer service report prepared by the SSA covering the period of January 1, 2019 through February 8, 2019 shows that the Rochester field office has the longest average initial wait time in New York State to be seen by an office screener at 30.4 minutes. While the screener can resolve some customers’ issues, additional data collected by field office staff across Upstate SSA offices in February and March recorded that many other customers are left to wait hours longer until an available field office claims representative is able to meet with them and resolve their problem. In the Rochester field office, these wait times lasted up to three or four hours. Furthermore, the January 2019 customer service report reveals that many of these customers eventually gave up and finally left the office without service. The data reveals that the Rochester office ranked #1 among all New York State offices with the highest amount of people–614 customers—who simply gave up and left without service. In comparison, the Buffalo SSA had 425 customers leave without service while Syracuse had 300. In addition to the main downtown Rochester SSA office, the Finger Lakes region is also served by a smaller SSA office in the Town of Greece and while it had a slightly better average initial wait time of 26.7 minutes, it had 138 customers who gave up and left without service.

The 2019 data further revealed that while the Rochester office received 5,303 calls, it was only able to answer 41% of the calls, the lowest answer rate of all 28 SSA offices in New York State. The Greece SSA office received 2293 calls, answering about 70%. 

Moreover, the Rochester region ranks #2 in the nation for the longest wait time to receive an initial Social Security Benefits Hearing. Rochester residents will wait an average of 22 months for a hearing to resolve issues such as disability benefit eligibility, problems with survivor benefits, or problems with retirement benefits. In comparison, the hearing wait time in Albany is 16 months, while it is 11 months in Boston and Detroit. The Rochester hearings office currently has a backlog of 2,884 pending cases. Over the past 6 months, out of 166 regions, the Rochester hearings office ranked 9th as having the worst processing time, taking 668 days to complete cases.  

Schumer said that Rochester Social Security recipients deserve the ability to enjoy their retirement, and not spend in waiting rooms and listening to elevator music.

Therefore, Schumer today launched a major effort to rebuff the administration’s proposed cuts to SSA and instead boost funding for the agency. Schumer explained that the proposed FY20 Budget would reduce funding for staff at SSA. Schumer explained with so many SSA beneficiaries already under-served, including in Rochester, the federal government needs to be amplifying funding for the agency, and not the other way around. So, Schumer called on his colleagues in Congress to pass an additional $100 million in federal funding to reduce the Disability Hearings Backlog and benefit local field office operations.  Moreover, Schumer announced he is pushing to include a provision in the upcoming FY20 Social Security Appropriations bill to direct SSA to submit a plan to Congress within six months of the bill’s passage to ensure that field offices like Rochester receive enough funds to improve public service and restore staffing levels to ensure a significant decrease in service wait times. Schumer said that as shown by the 2019 data, the Rochester field office is struggling to fulfill its responsibilities in a timely manner, and that taking away further resources from Rochester and the other field offices across the state would be unacceptable.

Schumer was joined by David McNally, Director of Government Affairs & Advocacy for AARPLeanne Rorick, Director of NY Connects at Lifespan of Greater Rochester, Inc., Shawn Halloran, Executive Vice President of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3342 representing Social Security employees working in and serving Western New York, Steven Modica, Principle Modica Law Firm, Henrietta Town Council Members Michael Stafford and Robert Barley, and local senior citizens.

Leanne Rorick, Director of NY Connects at Lifespan of Greater Rochester said, “At Lifespan we work to assist older adults to take on the challenges and opportunities of their senior years by helping them access benefits and programs and social security is no exception.  We often field calls from Rochester area older adults right after they tried to call the Social Security office only to be met with long hold times.  Social Security is the financial lifeline for so many older adults so we applaud Senator Schumer’s efforts to decrease wait times and improve responsiveness.”

David McNally, AARP New York Director of Government Affairs & Advocacy said, “Without additional funding for the Social Security Administration, already-long waits on the phone and at regional offices will only get longer for Social Security recipients as nearly 18 million more Baby Boomers will reach traditional retirement age over the next decade. AARP appreciates Senator Schumer’s efforts to fight for this needed funding and help Americans access the benefits they have earned over a lifetime of hard work.”

Schumer said that Social Security field staff, like the ones at the Rochester field office, help seniors and those living with disabilities apply for benefits, replace lost Social Security numbers or Medicare cards, apply for retirements benefits, report changes in their address and seek advice on how to get the most of their earned Social Security and Medicare benefits. In 2018, SSA field office employees helped 169,780 people per day nationwide, and that number will continue to rise with the retirement of baby boomers.

Schumer added that despite their importance in recent years, the SSA has had their operational capacity tightly restricted. In fact, since 2010, Congress has cut SSA’s operating budget by 11 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, leading to loss of more than 10,00 employees including 3,500 field office staff, the closing of 65 field offices, including 12 in New York, and reduced hours in field offices across the country. Schumer said that it is absolutely critical for this trend to be reversed, so that Social Security recipients receive all the support and services the program promises them in a timely manner.


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