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Social Security phone service disruptions led to dropped calls, longer wait times, report finds – UnlistedNews

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Callers seeking help from the Social Security Administration in recent years have reported long wait times, dropped calls and an inability to access agency services.

TO new report from the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General finds that the agency experienced more than 40 phone system outages between May 2021 and December 2022.

The disruptions came as the agency limited its in-person services following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. During that time, the telephone was the “primary option” for the public to interact with agency employees, the report states.

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Most of the outages occurred between October and last December and involved the agency’s 800 number, resulting in longer wait times or busy messages, according to the report from the office of Inspector General Gail Ennis. The office oversees the programs and operations of the Social Security Administration on behalf of the public.

The non-response rate reached its highest level between the outage dates identified in the report (80.4%) on February 22 and 23. During those two days, there were excess calls per second while the phone system was at full capacity, while the rate at which calls were answered was 46.3 minutes.

The servers were rebooted and preventative measures were put in place with the goal of preventing the issue from reoccurring, according to the report.

Other dates identified in the report showed that the rate of unanswered calls ranged from as low as 32.3%, while the average speed at which calls were answered was at least 13.5 minutes.

The official average phone wait time is around 35 minutes, according to Kathleen Romig, director of Social Security and disability policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Most of the people I’ve talked to have experienced wait times longer than that,” Romig said.

For periods of up to two days, 800 number services, including those that are automated, were unavailable, according to the report.

Reasons for outages included faulty hardware, software glitches, and server issues.

“The telephone continues to be a primary method of communication for conducting business for many Americans, particularly those who are vulnerable, elderly or disabled,” Ennis said. “It’s critical that SSA be accessible, especially to those who depend on them the most.”

Upcoming Phone System Update

To better serve the public after the pandemic began, the Social Security Administration implemented temporary workarounds to its phone systems, the agency’s chief of staff, Scott Frey, said in a written response to the Office of Inspector General’s report.

“Since then, we have been constantly working to improve the stability of this temporary solution, reducing service interruptions from December 30, 2022,” Frey wrote.

For years, the Social Security Administration has had three phone systems for its 800 number, field offices and headquarters, according to the report. The agency plans to replace them with a single, uniform platform that is intended to be more “efficient, stable, and functional,” according to the report. The Covid-19 pandemic has delayed that update.

The Social Security Administration plans to roll out a new phone platform for the 800 number by the end of fiscal year 2023, Frey wrote.

The Social Security Administration did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

More funding needed for SSA, too, expert says

A Social Security Administration office in Sebring, Florida.

Jeff Greenberg | Universal Image Group | fake images

In addition to technological improvements, the Social Security Administration also needs to have more people answering the phone, according to Romig.

“To get more people to answer the phones, more money is needed,” he added.

But securing additional resources for the federal agency may not be easy, Romig said.

The recent debt ceiling agreement agreed to flat funding average of 2023 levels for next year, it added. Romig noted, however, that House Republicans are pushing for average appropriations of 2022 levels.

Either option would be detrimental to the Social Security Administration’s ability to provide services, he said.

To get more people to answer the phones, more money is needed.

kathleen romig

director of Social Security and disability policy at the Center for Budgetary and Political Priorities

The agency has many fixed costs that increase with inflation. At the same time, there are about 1 million new beneficiaries on average each year due to the aging of the population, Romig said.

Capping FY 2024 spending at the level enacted in 2022 would result in a cut of about 6% of funding enacted by the Social Security Administration for 2023, Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi said. wrote in a March letter to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.

A 6% cut below current funding “would significantly impact our ability to serve the public and undermine our primary mission: to produce longer wait times for benefits and to reach SSA representatives, as well as reduced access to the in-person service,” Kijakazi wrote.


Sara Marcus
Sara Marcushttps://unlistednews.com
Meet Sara Marcus, our newest addition to the Unlisted News team! Sara is a talented author and cultural critic, whose work has appeared in a variety of publications. Sara's writing style is characterized by its incisiveness and thought-provoking nature, and her insightful commentary on music, politics, and social justice is sure to captivate our readers. We are thrilled to have her join our team and look forward to sharing her work with our readers.


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