Social Security offices set to reopen in March

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The national network of Social Security counters, closed nearly two years ago at the start of the pandemic, is set to reopen on March 30.

The Social Security Administration and unions representing the agency workforce Okay this week to reopen more than 1,200 offices, subject to changing pandemic conditions and continued negotiations. The negotiation should be concluded by March 1, which would leave 30 days to plan the return to the office.

“This agreement will allow all parties to wait and see what happens with the final wave of the pandemic,” said Rich Couture, chief negotiator for the American Federation of Government Employees, one of three unions. representing the interim workforce involved in the talks. . “Hopefully this subsides, but if not we can take other steps to postpone the reopening if necessary.”

Social Security Field Offices process claims for pension and health insurance benefits. But they also assist with claims for Social Security disability insurance and Supplemental Security Income, the benefits program for low-income, disabled, or elderly people. Since the start of the pandemic, almost all public services have been available only online, by phone and by mail, and the agency’s workforce of nearly 60,000 people has been operating virtually. Office visits are available by appointment only and only for a limited number of critical issues.

Processing of Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare claims was not impeded during the office closure, according to agency records. But there were big declines in 2020 in benefit allocations for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance.

Social Security had earlier announced a tentative plan for employees to return to offices on Jan. 3. But that date was postponed due to disagreements between the agency and the unions over the details of the plan.

The new agreement requires all employees and visitors to wear masks in Social Security facilities, regardless of their vaccination status. Under the agency’s original plan, visitors who said they had been vaccinated would have been allowed to forego masks. The agreement also provides for negotiations between the agency and various segments of the workforce on the details of each group’s reopening plan.

“Our main concern is to ensure the safety and health of employees and visitors,” said Mr. Couture.

Details of the reopening of offices, including opening hours, are still being negotiated, but are expected to be announced in March. The agency also plans to continue allowing telecommuting to varying degrees for different jobs.

During the transition, the agency advises people to use its website whenever possible or to call their national toll-free number, 800-772-1213, as a starting point for receiving assistance.

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