Why doesn’t the Social Security Administration answer the phone?

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and you have tried to call a Social Security field office, it is likely that you have encountered one of the following scenarios:

  1. Your were on hold for a very long time and then you were disconnected either before you had a chance to speak to a representative or while you were talking to a representative; OR
  2. You were on hold for a long time, you were transferred to another voice mail menu which sounded promising and then the call just ended, no music, no nothing; OR
  3. You called the field office but somehow your call was transferred to someone who was answering the 1-800 national customer service number and the agent could not assist you with the issue at the field office.

Calling the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) and reaching a representative has always been difficult but it has become more so during the pandemic. Why is that? They are not generally seeing people in person at the field offices so they should have the resources to answer the phones? Yet, this is not happening. Apparently Congressional representatives asked similar questions to SSA’s Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”). The OIG studied the SSA’s telephone service and prepared a report.

According to the OIG report, From October 2019 to March 2020, SSA’s field offices received an average 4.6 million calls per month The number of calls to field offices gradually increased beginning in March 2020 when SSA began limiting in-person field office visits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Calls to field offices increased further in June 2020 when SSA shared field office general telephone numbers with the public. Between April and September 2020, field offices received an average 7.5 million calls per month. In March 2021, one year into the pandemic, field offices received over 12 million calls.

The SSA essentially claims that they are not set up to handle this volume of calls. Moreover, they seem to claim that their performance is not bad. The OIG compared the SSA’s call metrics (calls to the field offices and to the I-800 number) to the metrics of other federal agencies and determined that SSA had a higher call volume in FY 2020 than any other customer service call center. Yet, despite that higher call volume , according to the OIG’s report, SSA’s performance was generally similar to, or better than, most other agencies’ call centers. For example, in FY 2020, employees handled 42 percent of total calls to SSA’s field offices and national 800-number, while employees handled a smaller percentage of calls at half of other Federal agencies’ call centers. This is sure setting the bar high! Comparing SSA’s bad service to even poorer service at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) does not solve the problem of the SSA failing to answer the phone when you call!!

As discussed in the OIG report, the SSA provides three solutions to handling their increased phone volume: (1) they have made more services available online; (2) they have hired 1000 additional employees to answer the phones; (3) they have purchased a new phone system. Unfortunately these small changes have not fixed the problem. The OIG reports that SSA’s new phone system does not work and is not yet operational. As to the other changes the SSA has made, well, we have not noticed a difference.

Work-arounds” to speaking with a human at the SSA

Since reaching a human at the SSA is difficult, here are my suggestions for trying to solve your issue:

1.Hire an attorney – This may sound self serving but it is true. We do not have magic numbers to call but when we need to call, we will keep calling. We also can obtain electronic access to a file in most cases after we are the attorney of record. Sometimes we can resolve an issue simply by looking at the file.

2. Fax the SSA – This works in some cases. All SSA offices have published their fax numbers so you may try faxing them.

3. Establish an online “My Social Security account.” To their credit, SSA has improved their service online. There are some services you can do online. It is not the answer for most cases, but for some, it is.

4. File a feedback form with SSA – While giving your feedback will not resolve your issue , you can easily fill out the form while you are waiting on hold with SSA for an hour. It will give you one second of satisfaction. And perhaps someone actually reads the feedback forms! The SSA should be told how bad their phone service is . And, if you actually speak to a human and resolve your issue, they should hear how good it is. Do not worry, providing feedback will not hurt your case.

5. Call the 1-800 number– Generally you will reach someone eventually. It is easier to reach someone at the national number than at the field office. This is the phone number – 1 (800) 772-1213. Be prepared to wait. The agents who answer the number do have a way to connect to the field offices; it just may take some time.

6. Ask your Congressional representative for help – We do this as a last resort, when we are unable to resolve an issue and have tried everything. All Congressional offices have liaisons with federal agencies. Do not be afraid to ask your Congressional representative for help. You have elected them to help you and now you need help. You can use the Congressional Representative locator to find your representative.

I hope my suggestions will help you. If you have others, please let me know. The good news is that communicating with SSA will become easier as the pandemic lets up and they open up their offices again.

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The Law Office of Geri N. Kahn assists San Francisco Bay Area residents with immigration and Social Security disability cases.
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