Social Security field offices remain closed to public as other federal, state buildings reopen

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 7:07 PM EDT

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Despite all of the re-openings we see happening in our communities, one federal office so many people depend on remains closed to the public.

People still can’t walk into a local Social Security office to get a new card or handle a name change request.

Despite all of the re-openings we see happening in our communities, one federal office so many people depend on remains...

Posted by Hannah Catlett on Tuesday, July 27, 2021

What’s likely the most shocking though, is how the administration is telling people to get those services they need.

Michelle Rybka went to the social security office in Beachwood at the beginning of the month.

“I was instructed by the security guard that they are not seeing anyone inside, they are not taking appointments, and to call the phone number,” she said.

Rybka was hoping to get another copy of her social security card.

But, when she called the number listed on the office door, Rybka says a representative told her the same thing we found on the government website.

The social security administration says in some cases, services can obtained from the office online.

But, many who are seeking a new social security card whether they just got married, or lost their other one have to fill out the application and send in their identification-- a passport or a driver’s license.

“Not a copy, but the original license,” Rybka clarified.

Rybka couldn’t believe what was being asked of her.

“It’s just shocking to be told to put your driver’s license in a dropbox. How are people supposed to function?” she said.

Plus, she was considering all the problems the nation’s recently seen with the postal service when it comes to staffing shortages and lost or stolen mail.

“To me, it’s too risky to put a driver’s license in the mail, hoping you’ll get it back in four to six weeks,” she said.

The administration says if you don’t want to send in your ID or passport, they’re also temporarily accepting these secondary forms of ID, like a military ID, a marriage document or a Medicaid card-- all still very sensitive documents.

“I was never in the military, I don’t have Medicare,” Rybka said. “I can’t get an answer as to why they are closed.”

Several members of Congress sent a letter to government leaders last week saying “COVID infection rates have been low to nonexistent for months, and yet Americans... remain without access to in-person taxpayer funded services.”

We found that controversy over the leadership of the social security office may be partially to blame.

President Biden recently fired the administration’s last commissioner and put an acting commissioner in charge.

That was more than two weeks ago, but as other federal buildings reopen, a spokesperson tells 19 Investigates social security agents are working, however, the public is still not allowed inside their office due to COVID 19.

We witnessed several others turned away while we were talking to Rybka and the same at other locations we went to.

“Last time this year I could understand it,” Rybka said.

She doesn’t understand it now though, when so many safety options are available.

“I have no problem with them opening for appointments only, requiring social distancing, requiring masks, and I would even support them if they required proof of vaccine to enter their facility,” she said.

Ryba reached out to Ohio’s Senators and representatives about the concern.

Federal lawmakers from both political parties told 19 Investigates they’re aware and frustrated with the problems caused by the lack of in-person availability at the social security office.

Republican Senator Rob Portman sent us the following statement:

“Yes, we have heard from many constituents about this issue. Our caseworker who oversees the Social Security portfolio has been told by Social Security District Offices (SSA DO) that they are getting directives from the Commissioner’s office regarding returning to normal operations. Social Security has an interim Commissioner, but due to this being a directive from that office, we would recommend that you reach out to them to get some answers.”

And, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown gave us this statement:

“Senator Brown’s office has heard from constituents who are frustrated they can’t get in-person appointments at various federal agencies in different phases of reopening. The Senator encourages all Ohioans who need assistance navigating federal agencies reach out to his office for help.

Over the course of the pandemic, the country had an opportunity to shore up the mail delivery system to serve Americans during an unprecedented time of need. The Postmaster General squandered that opportunity. His ongoing interference with the Postal Service’s reliable and timely mail service continues to disrupt the lives of those who depend on it. Senator Brown called for the Postmaster General to resign last August and nothing in the past year has prompted him to change his mind.”

19 Investigates asked the social security office directly if it has a targeted reopening date. We did not get a reply.

However, in that letter from lawmakers, it says the union representing federal workers is requiring a minimum notice of 30 days before government agencies require people to come back to work in person.

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