The coronavirus pandemic has forced many people to work from home, and that includes some 53,000 workers at the Social Security
Administration. Social Security field offices are closed. But the shutdown hasn’t stopped the agency from processing claims for
new benefits and appeals of benefit denials. And according to statistics that the SSA sent its workers, the agency has been doing so
at a faster pace than before.
“Telework is proving a great boon to the service Social Security provides to the American people,” says Ralph deJuliis,
who works at the SSA’s office in Tulsa, Okla. “We are getting the checks to people faster and quicker.” According to
deJuliis, the SSA has found that its backlog of pending cases has fallen by 11% since March 23, when the agency instituted wide-scale
telework, and that calls from recipients are answered more quickly.
Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says it’s not surprising that productivity is up. “Actually,
there are studies that have been done, including studies in government agencies—small-scale studies, to be sure—but they
have shown that productivity does rise when people get to work from home,” she says.
Sawhill says she expects teleworking will continue to increase both in government and the private sector after the coronavirus
crisis ends. “This experience has showed us that we can get work done at home and that we can meet people’s needs, the
public’s needs, by doing so,” she says. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of downsides. But overall,
I think this is a trend that is going to accelerate sharply as a result of this recent experience.”
The federal government has not given any guidance as to when it expects all federal workers to return to their offices. The SSA
issued a statement saying it continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation across the nation, promising that when it does reopen offices,
it will provide a safe environment for the people it serves and its employees.
You can find this video and a full transcript at NPR.