07.02.18

SCHUMER REVEALS: SYRACUSE SOCIAL SECURITY FIELD OFFICE HAS THE STATE’S LARGEST CASE BACKLOG; AVERAGE WAIT TIME FOR A HEARING IS ALMOST TWO YEARS; SENATOR SAYS SYRACUSE FIELD OFFICE URGENTLY NEEDS NEWLY AVAILABLE FED FUNDING TO HELP CUT WAIT TIMES & IMPROVE CUSTOMER SERVICE

With Over 9K Cases Pending, Syracuse SSA Field Office Faces The Largest Case Backlog In NYS; And Average Wait Time For An Appeals Hearing is over 620 Days 

Schumer: Syracuse SSA Field Office Can’t Keep Up With Requests Due To Lack of Resources And Rate of New Retirees; New Dollars Secured in Recent Legislation Could Help Cut Down On Wait Times  

Schumer: Central New York Seniors Are Tired Of Listening to Hold Music

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today revealed that without immediate intervention Social Security field offices in Upstate New York, including the Syracuse 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 -10,000 reaching the retirement age every day - the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) workload has increased tremendously and therefore wait times have reached unprecedented levels. The Syracuse field office has the state’s largest pending case backlog with over 9,000 outstanding retirements, supplementary security income, and disability claims and the average wait time for a hearing to be processed is over 620 days. The Syracuse SSA field office also received over 22,000 calls last year, the second most in the state, but only answered 66 percent of calls according to recent data. For this reason, Schumer called on the federal government to immediately deliver new funding – which Schumer negotiated and President Trump signed into law - to underfunded and understaffed Social Security Administration hearing and field offices. 

“Central New York seniors and those waiting for a hearing are sick and tired of listening to hold music instead of speaking with a real live human 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 Syracuse field office, which has one of the largest case backlogs  in the state is clearly no exception.  That is why I fought so hard to secure $480 million in new federal funding to alleviate the egregious wait times and staffing issues at Social Security field offices. Now the feds must act quickly and deliver a good chunk of this money to New York, so that field offices can remain open, address applicant backlogs, and help our most vulnerable.”  

Schumer successfully negotiated a $480 million increase in SSA funding, which was included in the recently passed Omnibus bill. The Omnibus spending bill provides $12.9 billion for SSA’s administrative budget, which represents a $480 million increase over last year. It includes an increase for general operations and additional staff, as well as designated amounts of $280 million for IT modernization and $100 million for reducing the disability hearings backlog. 

The Omnibus bill also helps retain and improve the SSA’s field office infrastructure, providing a temporary moratorium on field office closures that have disproportionately impacted New York. Schumer said many Central New York retirees deserve timely in-person advice at SSA’s field offices on how to get the most out of their earned Medicare and Social Security benefits and the omnibus provides the resources for just that. Schumer concluded that with all the important work that the Social Security Administration does to keep Central New York’s seniors and disabled comfortable, they absolutely deserve adequate funding now and in the future.   

Schumer said Social Security field staff, like the ones at the Syracuse field offices, help seniors and those living with disabilities apply for benefits, replace lost Social Security numbers or Medicare cards, apply for retirement benefits, report changes in their address, and seek advice on how to get the most out of their earned Social Security and Medicare benefits. In 2016, SSA field office employees helped 43 million visitors nationwide and that number will continue to grow with the retirement of the 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 10,000 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. In Syracuse, in-person visit wait times average nearly a half-hour.  The Syracuse SSA field office also received over 22,000 calls last year, the second most in the state, but only answered 66 percent of calls according to recent data.

Schumer also said the multi-year cuts also hurt the Central New Yorkers with outstanding retirement, supplementary security income, and disability claims. Nationwide the current wait time for a claim appeal is over 600 days with the case backlog topping over 1 million people. In Syracuse, the field office has over 9,000 cases pending, the largest backlog of any field office in New York State and one of the largest in the nation, and the average wait time for a hearing is 21 months or 621 days.

Schumer was joined by local officials including Mark Venesky, Town of Cicero Supervisor, Timothy Clune, Executive Director of Disability Rights New York, Randy Hoak, AARP Associate State Director for Central New York, and Elaine C. Amory, Legal Services of Central New York, Inc. Staff Attorney.

“As many know, the Town of Cicero is committed to the well-being of our seniors. Cicero’s senior programs have made us a leader in Onondaga County and have touched many of our most help needed senior citizens. I am proud to stand with Senator Schumer in support of his efforts to remedy this disconnect between Social Security and the senior members of our community, “ said Mark Venesky, Town of Cicero Supervisor.

“In addition to the $480 million in the Social Security budget that Sen. Schumer helped secured, he was also instrumental in having a new federal program created for the beneficiaries of Social Security benefits who have representative payees. Those are people who, because a determination has been made that they cannot otherwise handle their money, someone else would be appointed to handle it for them. Over the years there has been scandal upon scandal regarding the use of this money, not for the beneficiary, but for the representative payee," said Timothy Clune, Executive Director of Disability Rights New York.

“This important funding increase for the Social Security Administration is long overdue, but much appreciated. With nearly 18 million more Baby Boomers due to reach traditional retirement age over the next decade, long waits on the phone and at regional offices aren’t going to improve on their own. But this funding should help the Social Security Administration do better, and AARP thanks Senator Schumer for fighting for it,” said Randy Hoak, AARP Associate State Director for Central New York

“I provide legal assistance to low-income individuals affected by cancer. The frustrations some of my  clients have experienced involve the Social Security Administration erroneously withholding their benefits without warning for various reasons. This is a denial of their due process rights and deprives them  of their only source of income. Once the funds are taken it can be a confusing process to get the benefits reinstated, especially for a person trying to handle it on their own. We are able to utilize the appeals process but some cases take months to resolve. In the meantime, people are at risk of losing their Medicare coverage, as it is connected to their social security benefits, and they struggle to meet other basic needs. This financial toll only adds to the stress of having a serious illness,” said Elaine C. Amory, Legal Services of Central New York, Inc. Staff Attorney.

Schumer said that the need for more funding to reduce backlogs and waiting times is most evident by the fact that over 10,000 people died last year while waiting for a disability determination. Schumer said now with the budget passed, SSA will finally have the investment it needs to benefit seniors and the disabled living in Central New York and beyond.

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