The Social Security Administration (SSA), which barred all in-person visits to its 1,200 offices last March in the face of the rising coronavirus pandemic, is now granting a narrow exception.
The agency will offer express interviews for eligible people seeking to submit documents for an original or replacement Social Security Number card, and certain other services requiring documentation. Interviews — dubbed Express Interviews or EXIs — can last about five to seven minutes, and can be granted to applicants who are unable or unwilling to interact with the SSA online or via the mail.
The SSA says it will generally allow in-person appointments for people in “limited, critical situations,” such those who are without food, shelter, utilities, medical care or coverage and who wish to apply for, or reinstate, benefits. In addition, those who already are receiving benefits and are in urgent need of a payment that they cannot otherwise receive electronically may apply in person.
Those pursuing an EXI will need to call their local SSA office for approval. (Find your local office here.) Managers at the SSA’s approximately 1,200 field offices have been granted discretion whether to allow an interview, based upon staff availability and other criteria. When granted, interviews may only be used for the purpose of submitting documents.
Some 43 million people visited SSA offices in 2019. Last year’s ban on visits prompted a plummet in applications for Supplementary Security Income (SSI), a benefit that serves low-income people with disabilities as well as senior citizens. In contrast, though, the volume of Social Security and Medicare benefit applications increased substantially.
The agency is now considering a more permanent expansion of its alternatives to in-person services.
“The pandemic provides a unique opportunity to consider how to improve service, increase virtual services and include the role of telework in the future,” Mark Hinkle, an agency spokesman, told the New York Times. “We are reviewing what we have learned and are working with our management team, unions and other stakeholders.”