Is the Internet the Answer for Everyone with Social Security Questions?

From Dean Baker in the Huffington Post:

The media have been rightly focusing their attention on the long waiting lists for veterans seeking medical care, and even worse, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs cover-up… Unfortunately the VA system is not the only part of the government where essential services may be threatened by cutbacks. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has recently disclosed plans for a major downsizing that will result in the closing of many more of its field offices. The goal is to handle the bulk of Social Security’s requests, questions, and complaints through the Internet.

While it’s important and desirable for SSA to have an Internet site that can address most problems, the reality is that there are many people who do not feel comfortable using the web. This is especially true among beneficiaries of Social Security and disability, who almost by definition are older than the population as a whole, and often in poor health…Social Security provides the majority of income for the overwhelming majority of beneficiaries, and it provides more than 90 percent of the income for 40 percent of beneficiaries.

In addition to ensuring that beneficiaries get the benefits to which they are entitled, there is an additional reason for making every effort to minimize the administrative mistakes in the Social Security system. There is considerable hostility to the Social Security program…

SSA is already tremendously efficient compared to its private sector counterparts. Administrative costs for the system as whole are just 0.9 percent of benefits. The administrative costs for just the retirement and survivors’ portion of the program are 0.5 percent of benefits. Privatized systems in places like the United Kingdom or Chile have costs that are twenty times as high.

It’s great to look for savings that still preserve the quality of the service provided by SSA. But a route that will make it difficult for beneficiaries to talk to a human being doesn’t fit the bill. That path virtually ensures some future scandal with large number of seniors losing their housing and being unable to pay for food because the SSA did not properly file their claim. See story here: