Social Security Wait Times Increased In the Past Decade

Aug 4, 2020 / Amanda Chase, Horsesmouth Assistant Editor

Millions of Americans are waiting in line longer at Social Security Administration field offices than they were 10 years ago despite fewer people using the agency’s in-person services. According to a July audit by the SSA inspector general, 43 million Americans waited an average 24.8 minutes to see a customer service representative at the agency’s 1,200-plus field offices during fiscal 2019, compared to 45.4 million Americans waiting about 19 minutes on average in 2010. Auditors found 4.2 million Americans waited an hour or longer to meet with a representative in 2019, nearly double the 2.3 million Americans who waited that long in 2010.

Auditors also indicated that from 2010 to 2020, 21.6 million Americans left an SSA field office without receiving any service, or 5% of the total 430 million total visitors during that period. That equates to approximately 2.2 million customers per year.

Auditors attributed the increased wait times over the decade to several factors, including staffing losses and reducing operating hours of field offices from “a high of 35 hours per week to a low of 27 hours per week.” According to interviews from SSA officials, the agency “lost approximately 3,000 field office employees” from 2010 to 2013 due to a three-year hiring freeze caused by “lower-than-requested funding.” Another hiring freeze came in 2016, and recent agency plans to hire 1,900 new personnel in 2020 have been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced increased remote work and impacted nearly every field office.

The delayed wait times come as the agency faces a record number of total beneficiaries receiving Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments. In 2009, a total of 60 million Americans received such benefits, but that number has ballooned 25% to nearly 76 million Americans today. As a result, the agency’s overall customer experience performance declined, though its telephone service was comparable with other federal agencies.

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