April 15, 2019 06:22 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- If you need to handle some business at the local Social Security office, plan to block out the whole day. The Rochester office along Main Street has the longest wait times in all of New York state and the second longest in the country.
According to new data from Jan. 4 to Feb. 8 of 2019, the Rochester office received 5,303 phone calls but more than half of them went unanswered. The average wait-time nationwide to see a customer service representative is 26.5 minutes. In Rochester, it's 30.4.
If you need to appeal a benefit decision in Rochester, you'll wait about 22 months compared to the nationwide average of 19.5 months. There are about 40 employees at the Main Street location tasked with answering the phones, manning the counters, processing the applications and handling customer service.
Burnett Byrd of Rochester thought he had plenty of time for his trip to the Social Security office on Monday but he was wrong.
"I've been in there for two hours, I didn't get seen. I've got other errands to do, and I'm disappointed," he told News10NBC on the way out the door. During that one-month period earlier this year, 614 others also left before getting the help they had come for.
After about 45 minutes in the waiting room on Monday morning, Janice Bones of Rochester was told to go online for the help she needed.
"I'm not that great with computers so I'm trying to get my grandson to help me," she says.
"We're just overwhelmed by the number of folks that need service," says Shawn Halloran the president of AFGE Local 3342, the union that represents Social Security field office employees.
Halloran points to budget cuts and hiring freezes over the last decade as the cause of the issues and warns that as baby boomers hit retirement age, it's only going to get worse. In 2016, there were 59 million visitors nationwide to Social Security offices. In 2025, that number is expected to soar to 75 million.
"You shouldn't have to do cart-wheels and show up three or four times at the Social Security office to get your due," Senator Chuck Schumer told a crowd of senior citizens in Rochester on Monday. Schumer attributes the severity of the issues in Rochester to a larger percentage of aging people near the poverty line.
Congress allocated $100 million last year and Senator Schumer says he's hoping to secure the same this year to bring staffing levels at SSA offices back up.
"I'm also going to put a lot of pressure on the Social Security Administration to send more people here to Rochester right away. We should not have the longest waits in New York state," he says.
Even if the cash comes through, it won't offer immediate help.
"It takes about two years for an employee to become a journeyman employee and be able to do all the facets of the job," Halloran says.
Updated: April 15, 2019 06:22 PM
Created: April 15, 2019 05:48 PM
Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company