A Social Security Administration office in Sebring, Florida.
Jeff Greenberg | Group of universal images | Getty Images
Applying for Social Security benefits can be a complicated process. Now President Joe Biden wants to make it easier.
This week, the president signed an executive order to streamline the processes for Americans to request services and benefits from 17 federal agencies.
“For the millions of people who retire each year, you should be able to apply for Social Security benefits without having to go to a Social Security office,” Biden said when signing the executive order.
Other government services are also expected to be improved with new online tools to make tax filing easier or to help Medicare registrants access personalized information and expanded customer support.
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For social security, the effort comes as the federal agency has been tasked with putting a large part of its services online after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In-person office visits are now available by appointment only, provided applicants and recipients meet certain qualifications.
The transition has affected the services of the federal agency, with some offices facing a significant backlog of traditional mail, according to the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration.
Earlier this year, the government watchdog reported concerns over the increased volume of mail processed by Social Security field offices and the lack of formal processes to track it.
The government agency does not know the exact volume of mail it processes, making it difficult to properly adjust staffing levels, the Office of the Inspector General said in a recent annual report.
In addition, the offices also lack “comprehensive policies and procedures” to track and return the original documents that came with applications for social security benefits or cards, he noted. This includes driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports, and naturalization documents.
“Because of this backlog, people were left even longer without original documents that they might need for other purposes,” said Dan Adcock, director of government relations and policy at the National Security Preservation Committee. social and health insurance.
Biden’s decree aims to change that by creating a way for applicants and recipients to upload their forms and documents online.
It would also increase the ability to use electronic signatures, allow the Social Security Administration to share data with other government agencies, and allow the agency to help applicants and beneficiaries identify others. government benefits to which they may be entitled, to the extent possible.
The decree requires the Social Security Commissioner to provide a report to the Bureau of Management and Budget within 120 days identifying potential areas for policy reform.
Efforts to improve online social security services are a welcome development, according to Adcock.
“They are all aimed at removing the barriers that prevent people from getting their vested benefits,” he said.
However, with many Americans still not having Internet or broadband access, physical Social Security offices still have an important role, he said. (A 2021 analysis of US Census Bureau data by consumer website Reviews.org found that 27.6 million US households, or 22.5%, do not have home Internet access.)
“Field offices are still a vital link for people who don’t have online access or the skills to go online and use a computer,” Adcock said.
The Executive Order’s efforts to make Medicare information more accessible can also help beneficiaries, who are often bewildered by the myriad of choices when purchasing private Medicare Advantage or Part D prescription drug plans.
“There are so many Medicare beneficiaries who raise their hands and stay in the same plan year after year, although it may make sense for them to switch to another plan,” Adcock said.