Social Security field offices, closed since March 17, 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reopened Thursday, April 7.
During the pandemic, in-person appointments at Social Security field offices were limited to critical situations, such as for people who were without food, medicine or shelter. While most offices can help you without an appointment, a few offices are closed or open by appointment only. Find out which offices are closed or open by appointment only, by visiting ssa.gov/emergency. SSA encourages you to make an appointment as this will help them plan for you.
You can do many things online at ssa.gov, such as apply for benefits. Also, with a personal my Social Security account, you can get an instant benefit verification letter or check the status of your application; most people can request a replacement Social Security card.
Plan ahead to avoid long lines
Like many businesses and organizations, Social Security had turned to options like online and telephone services to conduct its operations during the pandemic. Those options are still available. Nevertheless, people in rural areas and those without access to transportation or technology have struggled for help with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
“To avoid waiting in line, I strongly encourage people who can, to use our online services at www.socialsecurity.gov, call us and schedule appointments in advance rather than walking in without an appointment,” said Kilolo Kijakazi, Social Security’s acting commissioner, in a statement. Social Security warns that it is currently having problems with its phone systems. You may experience service issues, including poor call quality, dropped calls and long wait times.
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Health protocols remain
Because many people who use Social Security offices have health issues — and because Social Security’s union agreements require it — you’ll need to wear a mask and observe social distancing procedures when you visit an office. Social Security will provide masks for those who need them.
Be aware that Social Security offices tend to be busiest early in the morning, early in the week and early in the month. You may want to plan your visit for when the offices tend to be less busy. Similarly, reaching Social Security by phone may be more difficult before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Wait times are generally shorter later in the month.
“We are very pleased that the public will have a variety of options to reach SSA that now include in-person service,” says Joel Eskovitz, director of Social Security and Savings at the AARP Public Policy Institute. “We recognize that everyone will still need to be patient and that it will take time for services to return to pre-pandemic levels. As always, planning ahead by scheduling an appointment and seeing what documents you may need online can ease this process for the public.”
John Waggoner covers all things financial for AARP, from budgeting and taxes to retirement planning and Social Security. Previously he was a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance and USA Today and has written books on investing and the 2008 financial crisis. Waggoner's USA Today investing column ran in dozens of newspapers for 25 years.