Personal Finance

Paperwork Nightmares Dominate Senate Social Security Hearing

Social Security paperwork nightmares from the need of some people to send in drivers licenses, birth certificates, and passports to a lengthy and complex application form required for disability benefits dominated a Senate hearing today on the giant program.

Requiring applicants to put important original documents in the mail that they regularly need to have in their possession “just isn’t right,” asserted Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) at a Committee session.

He noted it can take several weeks for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to return them.

“It is incredibly important to end the requirement,” said Wyden, a former director of the Oregon Gray Panthers.

An alternative could be for Social Security to allow applicants to wave the documents during a Zoom session, suggested Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

In some cases, applicants are allowed to send in a certified secondary medical record Social Security Administration Deputy Commissioner, Operations Grace Kim.

While Finance Committee Ranking Minority (Party) Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) said the agency has performed admirably during the pandemic and praised SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul, Committee Social Security Subcommittee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black should resign.

Applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits has suffered unnecessarily under Saul and Black charged Brown.

In calling on the two Trump appointees to leave, Brown said SSI applications and awards at historic lows.

He urged the agency to shift its focus on the program from denial to assistance.

One of the problems with SSI, said the Senator, is the application is overly cumbersome:

“You basically need a law degree to apply.”

Kim said the agency is working with advocacy groups to simplify the application and put it online. Currently, the application is 23-pages long.

Facing criticism over the low staffing of Social Security field offices, the Social Security official acknowledged the levels are “well below” the 25 percent maximum allowed by the Office of Management and Budget.

She said the staffing won’t increase beyond 25 percent until there is additional guidance from the White House.

Recipients, applicants, and others can only visit a field office now if they have an appointment.

On the problem of getting Economic Impact Payments to Social Security recipients, Kim said Saul is working directly with the Internal Revenue Service to solve it.

Sen. Elizabeth (D-MA) Congress shares the blame for the weakening the agency’s service to the public. She noted SSA’s budget is 12 percent lower than a decade ago, even though the number of beneficiaries is up 21 percent.

Kim said the agency is expanding its services that recipients and applicants can access without going into offices through online video platforms to have staffers communicate with them virtually and increasing my Social Security online services.

Social Security needs to do more than to enter the 21st century electronically, said Tara Dawson McGuinness, senior advisor to New America, a technology think tank:

“Many organizations make the mistake of just taking an existing process and digitizing it without understanding who they are serving or whether that process works. Digitizing a broken process gets you a digitized broken process.”

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