Anyone trying to take care of a claim at the Syracuse social security field office probably knows the wait times are extremely long. In fact, Senator Chuck Schumer says the office has the largest case backlog in the state because the office can’t keep up with requests due to a lack of staffing and the flood of baby boomers reaching retirement age.
He stopped by the Cicero Senior Center Monday, where some residents said they’ve experienced the delays first-hand.
"If you have trouble you should be able to call up on the phone and solve your problem. Someone's laughing...right," Schumer said, acknowledging a senior in the center. "But when you call on the phone these days [you hear] 'please wait...please wait'. You have to wait for hours, and I know how anxious that is."
Schumer says the Syracuse SSA office recieved 22,000 calls last year, the second most in the state, but only answered 66 percent of the calls. He says lines are also long if you were to go in person to the social security office in the federal building.
But Schumer offered some hope. He told the seniors that he’s pushing the Social Security Administration to put Syracuse at the top of the list for its share of a $480 million increase in funding that he negotiated to boost staffing and equipment. Schumer says right now, if anyone didn’t get a social security check or lost their card, for example, they might be waiting awhile to resolve the problem.
"The Syracuse hearing office has a backlog of 9,000 claims. It takes 620 days for a hearing. So if they've not given the money you're entitled to, you can't wait two years."
Some cases even require the intervention of a lawyer. Elaine Amory is a staff attorney with Legal Services of Central New York, and mainly works on cases involving low income individuals affected by cancer. She says social security has been known to suspend or garnish benefits which someone has already been receiving.
"The frustration some of my clients have experienced involve the Social Security Administration erroneously withholding their benefits without warning for various reasons. This is a denial of their due process rights, and deprives them of their only source of income."
She says it can be confusing to get benefits reinstated, especially without a lawyer. Amory says the financial toll only adds to the stress of having a serious illness. Senator Schumer hopes the funding will be distributed by the end of summer, and that Syracuse will be first in line.