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WASHINGTON – The Social Security Administration plans to close its Amherst field office on March 28, and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, isn’t happy about it.

“The announced closing of the Amherst Social Security office would create real access barriers to seniors and people with disabilities in Western New York,” Higgins said on Wednesday after receiving word of the proposed closing. “These residents endure long delays due to case backlogs, and this move would add new and unnecessary obstacles to those already facing challenges.”

The Social Security Administration told Higgins and other local members of Congress this week that the Amherst office was being consolidated with the agency’s Buffalo office, which is located at 186 Exchange St.

The 22 employees at the Amherst office will be transferred to Buffalo, said John Shallman, a Social Security spokesman.

Asked why the consolidation is taking place, Shallman said: “The reason is basically survival.”

Congress has appropriated $1 billion less than President Obama requested to run the Social Security Administration in each of the last three years, forcing the agency to reduce its office hours and consolidate its operations, Shallman said.

The Amherst office was ripe for consolidation because the agency not only has a nearby office in Buffalo, but also has offices in Niagara Falls and West Seneca, Shallman said. He also noted that Social Security business can also be conducted online at www.socialsecurity.gov and at the agency’s toll-free number, 800-772-1213.

But Higgins said the closing of the Amherst office would be an undue burden on Social Security recipients from Amherst, who would endure an hourlong journey on public transportation to reach the Buffalo office.

Higgins – whose district is home to about 180,000 Social Security residents – also noted that the region has already experienced its share of cutbacks. The agency consolidated its Cheektowaga office into its West Seneca office in 2008, and has reduced staffing dramatically at all the local offices over the past 20 years, he said.

email: jzremski@buffnews.com