Social Security Administration: Remote Service Delivery Increased during COVID-19, but More Could Be Done to Assist Vulnerable Populations

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What GAO found

COVID-19 prompted the Social Security Administration (SSA) to make sweeping changes to the way it delivers services and manages its programs. On March 17, 2020, SSA closed its offices to the public – with limited in-person visits for individuals with certain critical needs – and expanded remote service options. SSA increased the use of telephone, mail, video and online services. Through 2021, SSA has established policies at field offices to increase the use of in-office appointments. SSA also worked with government agencies that process disability benefits claims to offer video options for certain medical exams. In April 2022, the agency reopened field offices for walk-in visits from the public.

The public filed fewer claims for benefits with SSA on average during the pandemic compared to the previous 2 years, particularly for certain benefits and among certain vulnerable populations, according to GAO’s analysis of SSA data. For example, compared to the 2 years before the pandemic began, average monthly claims were lower from March 2020 through December 2021 for several SSA benefits. Specifically, they were 18 percent lower for disability benefits, 12 percent lower for disability insurance, and 8 percent lower for supplemental security income for the elderly, though claims for supplemental security income recovered in late 2021. Some types of benefit claims declined more for certain populations, such as Hispanics.

Changes to SSA Benefit Entitlements (January 2020-December 2021)

SSA has taken steps to address a range of challenges with remote service delivery, but gaps remain in online service delivery and assessment of lessons learned. SSA focused on outreach to certain vulnerable populations and expanded the use of third parties to help the underserved access benefits and services. However, not all claimants can apply for SSI online, and applications in Spanish cannot be submitted online. As a result, SSA cannot fulfill its mission to ensure that its services are equitable and accessible, and some eligible persons may not be able to claim benefits. Some SSA offices have reviewed specific service changes, but the agency does not have a coordinated process for reviewing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and taking related corrective actions, which could leave SSA vulnerable in the future. be for other crises.

Why GAO did this study

In 2020, SSA provided benefits to nearly 70 million people. Under the CARES Act, SSA received $300 million to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to oversee federal efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO was also asked to review SSA’s response.

This report examines (1) changes SSA has made to the delivery of essential services; (2) the effect of these changes on the public, including certain vulnerable populations; and (3) how SSA addressed challenges it faced and identified lessons learned. GAO analyzed summary and administrative SSA data from March 2018 to December 2021 and reviewed the agency’s plans, policies and guidance documents. GAO also conducted group interviews with SSA personnel at various levels and offices; and interviewed SSA officials and outside stakeholders, including disability advocates and worker groups.


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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