• Social Security to cut hours at Downtown office


    PITTSBURGH - Joe Cercone isn’t happy that the government intends to reduce hours for people to visit the Social Security office Downtown.

    “I don’t like that. You don’t know where you’re going to be sometimes when you’re trying to make it down here,” said Cercone, 48, of Bloomfield, who receives disability payments and meets regularly with a case manager. “I don’t do anything online.”

    The Social Security Administration announced on Thursday that it will scale back hours at 1,400 offices nationwide to save money. Employees would continue to work the same hours but will spend less time with the public, giving them time to process claims without incurring overtime, the office said.

    A sign at the office on Penn Avenue that Cercone visited notes the change. The office will close at 3 p.m. weekdays, beginning Nov. 19. Until then, it will continue to be open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

    More cuts will be made on Jan. 2, when the office will be closed to the public at noon on Wednesdays.

    Social Security officials said less federal money necessitated the reduced hours. The budget cut “makes it impossible for the agency to provide the overtime needed to handle service to the public as it has done in the past,” the agency said in a statement.

    For the fiscal year that began in October, the agency requested $11.760 billion for administrative expenses. In the fiscal 2012 year, Congress cut that budget by $400 million compared with what was allocated in the fiscal 2010 year, the agency said.

    Spokeswoman Terri Lewis in Philadelphia did not return a phone call and would not answer the Tribune-Review’s emailed questions about how many people the Downtown office serves, how much its employees earn or were paid in overtime, or the typical caseload each worker carries. It’s unclear whether the office has a backlog of cases.

    “Although we do not have a specific figure as to how much will be saved by this change, it will reduce the need to incur overtime,” Lewis wrote in an emailed response. “As we have millions of people filing for retirement, survivors’ and disability benefits, and visiting and calling Social Security offices to resolve issues, there is always important work to be done.” The offices accept claims for benefit programs such as retirement, survivor, disability and Supplemental Security Income and Medicare. They process requests for Social Security numbers, replacement cards and changes to beneficiary records.

    People can apply for retirement, disability or Medicare benefits online at www.SocialSecurity.gov, or by calling 1-800-772-1213, according to the agency.

    Pittsburgh lawyer Mitchell Dugan, whose practice focuses on Social Security, disability and injury law, said many older people don’t use the Internet.

    “I think it may be harder to get through on the phone now if there is a reduced window. In person there, it’s hit or miss. Some days there’s a line; some days there’s not,” Dugan said. “A lot of people on (SSI) don’t have a computer.”

    Social Security records show 588,590 people, including spouses and children, received Social Security benefits in 2011 in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Nearly 370,000 of them are retirees, and more than 85,045 are people with disabilities.

    Some people who visited the Downtown office on Thursday said that scaling back hours would not affect them, but they worry about senior citizens.

    “I’m just surprised. I guess they figure people can go on the Internet, but some people don’t have it,” said Sawanya Ashmore, 41, of the North Side, who took her son to get a Social Security card. “It’s a shame. My father is 81, and he may not be able to get down here in that window.”

    Aline Francis, 46, of Rankin said she visits the office several times a month.

    “They shouldn’t do that. Why open at all on Wednesday?” Francis said. “We don’t need those cuts.”

    This article was written by Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE.

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