Rep. Brian Higgins wants the Social Security Administration to provide the facts that support its decision to close its Amherst field office.
Higgins, D-Buffalo, is introducing a bill today that will require the agency to halt office closings until it can prove to Congress that it has picked the right targeted sites.
“They would be required to notify Congress on their plans to close an office and provide evidence that the closing is justified,” he said.
The Social Security Administration Accountability Act is Higgins’ attempt to block the planned March 28 shutdown of the Amherst location.
He said the federal government has a pattern of making decisions without forethought and without fact-based justifications.
“I believe the same is true here based on the information we have compiled,” he said. “They should be removing barriers to access these programs, instead of raising them.”
Higgins said he’s all about cutting government costs, but not when it’ll affect a service that people rely on. He believes the agency hasn’t taken into account the area’s high senior citizen population and other demographic information that supports the need for a field office in Amherst.
Higgins’ bill would require the agency to submit a report to Congress with information about how offices are selected for closing, caseload data, service population and staff levels at sites slated to close. Higgins led a similar campaign in 2012 when the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to close the William Street processing center, which now may remain open indefinitely.
The Social Security Administration announced Jan. 15 that the Amherst office was being consolidated with the agency’s Buffalo office at 186 Exchange St. The 22 employees at the Amherst office will be transferred to Buffalo.
But Higgins – whose district is home to about 180,000 Social Security recipients – objected to the shutdown, saying it would create access barriers to local senior citizens and people with disabilities. Furthermore, with personnel cuts of 60 percent to 80 percent in the past 10 years at the area’s Social Security offices, the sites are already backlogged, causing long delays, Higgins said. Prior reductions include consolidation of the Cheektowaga office into its West Seneca office in 2008. Higgins added that closing the Amherst office would only exacerbate the problem.
However, the agency says it has received $1 billion less than requested by President Obama in the last three years to operate, leading to closings, consolidations and reduced office hours.
In addition to using other area offices, area residents who use the Amherst location are being encouraged to use the agency’s online services. Higgins said not all of the agency’s programs are available online, and “when you’re talking about an older population, it’s hard to say, ‘Just go on the Internet,’ ” adding that older generations tend to be less Web-savvy.
With the closing slated for next month, Higgins hopes his bill will pass soon. He plans to circulate it today for co-sponsorship from Democratic and Republican lawmakers.