In response to repeated complaints shared by constituents, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) today introduced new legislation that will ensure older Iowans can get answers from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
In a virtual press conference, Rep. Axne unveiled the Meeting Our Seniors’ Social Security Needs Act, which requires SSA to ensure adequate staff are assigned to answer phone calls to their offices to prevent Iowans from facing long wait times and automated responses.
The full press conference is available to view HERE.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced local Social Security offices across the country to discontinue in-person appointments, countless seniors have had to rely on virtual and phone options to try to get answers on their benefits. But from what I’ve heard from older Iowans, the phone line that is set up to help is leaving our seniors without answers.” said Rep. Axne. “My bill is a commonsense fix: it says that federal Social Security offices need to allocate the appropriate staff to have real people manning those phone lines. And it doesn’t ask taxpayers to spend a single additional dime, because frankly, this is something they should already be doing.”
The Social Security Administration operates a 24/7 automated hotline that is meant to connect callers to their local SSA office during business hours. This hotline has become even more important for seniors since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the discontinuation of in-person appointments.
But over the past year, Rep. Axne has heard from more than 200 older Iowans about the long wait times and difficulty reaching SSA staff through the hotline. While Rep. Axne’s casework team has been able to resolve the underlying issues on their behalf, the new legislation unveiled by Axne today would cut down on wait times and backlogged voicemails for the local offices to reduce the need for casework.
Iowans’ Social Security Stories:
At the event today, Rep. Axne shared stories that her office has received detailing difficulties stemming from the SSA hotline:
“It’s hard to contact the Social Security office. You call in and you’re on hold for hours before you get anyone as a live person. You have questions to ask them and many times you are cut off before even getting to the questions you have.”
“I’m constantly on hold when you make a call. I was never able to contact my local office, calls go through some sort of call center and you may reach someone in Texas rather than Iowa…it seems to be the opposite of ‘user friendly.’”
“My trouble contacting Social Security has been with very long hold times when calling the national number, hours not minutes.”
Support for the Answer Our Seniors’ Calls Act
Axne’s legislation has the support of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), Alliance of Retired Americans; Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC), Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER), and Iowa Association of Area Agencies on Aging (I4A).
Both I4A and the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans joined Axne at her press conference earlier today.
“I received a report that just yesterday a client served by an Area Agency on Aging waited on hold for 2 hours in an attempt to contact someone at the Social Security Administration office. Frustrated, the individual gave up and attempted to access information online with no further success. From the field, I have become aware of the importance for telephonic support because local offices may not exist or are not conveniently accessible…In 20 years, it might be that older adults will have access to affordable technology and navigating websites will be comfortable. But that day is not today,” said Joe Sample, Executive Director of I4A. “Today there continues to be a need for telephonic access, which is why we support Congresswoman Axne’s Meeting our Seniors’ Social Security Needs Act.”
In Iowa and nationally, we want to retain our help for seniors in whatever venue we find them in,” said Mike McCarthy, President of the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans. “Contacting the Social Security office to talk about our earned benefits is a primary reason for our support — really appreciate that.”
The bill was introduced today by Rep. Axne, Rep. Tim Ryan (OH-13), and Rep. Val Demings (FL-10).