When the coronavirus outbreak first erupted, many people were told to pack up their desks and work from home until things got better. And that extended to Social Security employees.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) shut down its field offices in March of 2020. Given that seniors, who were extremely vulnerable to severe disease during the height of the outbreak, were most likely to frequent these offices, that move made sense.
But now, a new report from the Social Security Office of the Inspector General has found that the agency is still behind in processing Social Security applications. And that means a lot of seniors may be waiting on the benefits they need to stay afloat.
Operating in catch-up mode
As of July 28, the Office of the Inspector General had visited 73 locations, including field offices, program service centers, and Social Security card centers. It found that many offices had loads of unprocessed mail and documents just waiting to be looked at.
Some of those documents were found to date back to November 2020. And that means that some seniors may have applied for benefits months ago, only to still be waiting on their money.
In addition to unprocessed documents, the Office of the Inspector General found that requests for new Social Security cards were being held up. Plus, it found backlogs of undeliverable mail that was never followed up on.
To be fair, the pandemic-induced shutdowns that occurred on a national level were both unprecedented and unexpected. As such, the SSA should be given a bit of leeway to catch up on administrative tasks that could only be accomplished once the agency deemed it safe enough to open its doors again.
But given the volume of unprocessed claims and documents, it paints a disturbing picture. It's also clear that the SSA doesn't have the ability to adjust its staffing needs accordingly to make sure that mail is processed in a timely fashion.
Of course, the SSA isn't the only agency to be grappling with a massive backlog of mail. The IRS has come under criticism for being slow to process paper tax returns that were filed in 2020.
Like the SSA, the IRS shut down its offices during the height of the pandemic, right smack in the middle of last year's tax season. The backlog got so bad that filers this year were strongly encouraged to submit their taxes electronically to avoid delays in processing refunds.
But while having to wait for a tax refund is bad enough, having to wait for Social Security benefits can be even worse. Many older workers dropped out of the labor force during the pandemic due to safety concerns. Those who did so under the assumption that they'd collect benefits may still, in fact, be waiting on those payments. That certainly makes for a pretty dire financial situation.
The Office of the Inspector General is currently working with management at the SSA to address its backlog and staffing issues. But for the sake of those seniors who are still waiting for benefits, let's hope matters get resolved quickly.