With his 65th birthday approaching, Eric Martin of Arlington knew it was time to sign up for Medicare. Thirty phone calls, countless busy signals and an office visit later, he still couldn’t get the help he needed. ...
To get the ball rolling, Martin had called a national toll-free number listed on a document he received in the mail from the Social Security Administration. He was then given the phone number to its Mid-Cities field office in Grand Prairie.
That’s when the process ground to a halt.
Martin began calling the during the first week of September, with no luck.
By Sept. 24, Martin said, he had called about 30 times without getting through. So he went to the office, only to find it packed with people waiting to be seen. One person was being helped every 30 minutes, he said. By his calculation, that meant he would not be seen until the next day. ...
Nationally, more than 3 million people had a wait of more than an hour at field offices, the GAO [Government Accountability Office] said, citing the Social Security Administration but noting that it had not validated its data.
GAO also reported that more than half the people who call field offices get busy signals. ...
An employee there who would identify herself only as Miss Rojas told the Star-Telegram that the number of workers tending the phones depends on the line of people inside the building.
But Charlie Brittian, project manager for the administration’s Regional Public Affairs team, has a different take.
"We answer the phone all day long," she said and noted that the Mid-Cities office has 52 employees.
She said Martin’s experience is not common at the Mid-Cities office. The average wait time this year for individuals without appointments, like Martin, has been 35.6 minutes, Brittian said. Individuals with appointments averaged a wait of 4.8 minutes, she said.
Brittian also said the Mid-Cities office has a policy of returning calls that day, or, if necessary, the next morning.
"That’s stupid," he said. "You don’t even get a recording, so how can they call back?"
I have said it before. We will know that Social Security field offices are adequately staffed when they are able to dispense with secret telephone numbers which are supposed to be used only by family and friends of Social Security employees and by higher ups at Social Security who need to reach the office by telephone. Contrary to the opinion of many Social Security field office employees this is not a normal situation. Few businesses need private numbers like this so.