The social security offices are expected to reopen in March
The social security offices are expected to reopen in March

The social security offices are expected to reopen in March

The national network of Social Security customer service offices, which was closed almost two years ago at the beginning of the pandemic, is about to reopen on March 30th.

Social Security Administration and trade unions representing the Agency’s workforce agreed this week to reopen more than 1,200 offices, subject to changes in pandemic conditions and further negotiations. Negotiations are expected to end on March 1, which will allow 30 days to plan for the office’s re-entry.

“This agreement will allow all parties to wait and see what happens to the latest wave of the pandemic,” said Rich Couture, chief negotiator for the American Federation of Government Employees, one of three unions representing the agency’s workforce involved in the negotiations. “Hopefully it will slow down, but if it does not, we can take further steps to postpone the reopening if necessary.”

Social Security field offices handle benefit claims for retirement and Medicare. But they also help with applications for Social Security Invalid Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, the low-income benefit program for the disabled or elderly. Since the pandemic began, almost all public service has only been available online and by phone and mail, and the agency’s workforce of nearly 60,000 has operated virtually. Office visits are only available by appointment and only for a limited number of critical questions.

Processing of social security pension benefits and Medicare claims has not deteriorated during the office closure, the agency’s records show. But there were sharp falls in 2020 in benefit premiums for Supplementary Security Income and Disability Insurance.

Social Security had previously announced a preliminary plan for employees to return to offices on January 3rd. But that date was postponed due to disagreement between the agency and unions over the details of the plan.

The new agreement encourages all employees and visitors to wear masks while on social security facilities, regardless of their vaccination status. According to the agency’s original plan, visitors who declared themselves vaccinated would have been allowed to give up masks. The agreement also calls for negotiations between the Agency and various sections of the workforce on the details of each group’s reopening plan.

“Our main concern is to keep employees and visitors safe and healthy,” said Mr. Couture.

Details of office reopening, including opening hours, are still under negotiation but are expected to be announced in March. The agency also plans to continue to allow teleworking to varying degrees for different jobs.

During the transition, the agency advises people to use its website where possible or call its national toll-free number, 800-772-1213, as a starting point for receiving assistance.

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