MASSENA - Residents of Massena and Akwesasne will have to travel to receive in-person assistance for their Social Security concerns after Feb. 12..
A representative from the Social Security Administration has hosted office hours of the second Tuesday of each month at the Massena Town Hall and Mohawk Tribal Building to provide in-person answers to residents questions and concerns related to social security for the past several years.
But, citing funding cuts that are plaguing many government-provided services, the SSA will no longer be offering its services in Massena and Akwesasne. After the Feb. 12 visit, the closest location for direct, in-person assistance will be the SSA office at 101 Ford St., Ogdensburg.
An SSA spokesman said the administration has faced $400 million in budgets cuts between 2010 and 2012 and as a result has been forced to reduce its payroll by approximately 9,000 employees.
With these losses, we have taken a number of steps. We had to reduce the hours we are open to the public in order for our employees to complete processing the work, SSA New York Regional Communications Director John Shallman wrote in an email. We have had to close our contact stations. We cannot afford to reduce the amount of time our employees spend serving the public in our field offices because of travel to and from these sites.
Over the last 15 years the SSA has reduced its number of contact stations from 1,450 to 50, 15 of which are scheduled to close within the next few weeks, according to Mr. Shallman.
Mr. Shallman noted that contact stations predate the availability of other electronic forms of customer support. He referred concerned residents to the contact the SSA online at www.socialsecurity.gov, or via telephone at 1-800-772-1213.
However, as Supervisor Joseph D. Gray pointed out, the elderly persons who utilize the SSAs services are sometimes less adept as others at using new technology.
Its different for senior citizens. Sometimes elderly persons dont like doing things over the phone, Mr. Gray said. This is a decrease to the services for senior citizens in Massena.
Mr. Gray said the town hall has always been busy on the days that the SSA was in the building, addressing the retirement concerns of area residents. Deputy Town Clerk Pamela A. Catanzarite said the town clerks office receives daily calls from residents inquiring about the SSA representatives visit.
Mayor James F. Hidy is also disappointed about the elimination of the service, noting that Ogdensburg is an almost 40-mile drive from Massena, which could place a burden on some older residents.
I feel the drive to Ogdensburg, particularly during the winter weather, is not ideal (for some residents), Mr. Hidy said. (And) sometimes its nice to have a warm body to talk to.
Town officials say they have been in contact with local representatives in an effort to either continue the SSA service or to provide an adequate alternative to the representative. One possibility is the implementation of a computer monitor that would allow residents to speak with an SSA representative through an online video service, such as Skype. Mr. Gray said they are discussing how the technology would work, where it would be located and whether the town would have to hire an additional employee to operate the computer.
Mr. Shallman declined to comment on whether this computer service could be a likely alternative for the SSAs monthly visits to Massena and Akwesasne.
Its very early to discuss technical options, but I would like to remind everyone that most, if not all, of the services being provided (by the representative) can be done over the phone, via mail or online, Mr. Shallman said.
Town Clerk Georgette Davis is asking concerned residents to contact their state and federal representatives to share their concerns over the move.