North Baltimore Social Security office among a string of locations set to close

The Social Security Administration office at the Rotunda in North Baltimore is scheduled to close next month, the latest in a recent string of field office closures decried by activists and lawmakers.

The office at 711 W. 40th St. is slated to close June 22, when staff members will be relocated to other offices in the Baltimore area, according to Nicole Tiggemann, a spokeswoman for the Woodlawn-based federal agency. Tiggemann said in an email that the office is closing “due to an expiring lease.”

The owner of the Rotunda has been redeveloping the property with apartments and new retail. Tiggemann said the original Social Security space was “repurposed.”

The General Services Administration, which serves as Social Security’s real estate agency, could not find a suitable replacement space, Tiggemann said.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, whose district includes the Rotunda, called the closure of the Social Security office a “tragedy,” particularly for nearby senior citizens who use its services.

“In this part of the city, people have used that office constantly for years. It’s a terrible loss and I don’t know what can be done to reverse it,” she said. “I’ll be working with our representatives in Congress to try to see what we can do.”

Social Security has been shutering offices across the country at what some advocates perceive as an alarming pace. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare estimates nearly 125 Social Security offices have been closed nationwide since 2000, including offices in Chicago and Milwaukee recently and another in Arlington, Va., scheduled to close June 21.

“We’re having fewer and fewer staff and we’re adding about 10,000 beneficiaries every day, so we have a much greater demand for service from the Social Security Administration and a decline in resources,” said Max Richtman, the committee’s president and CEO. “All of these closures are part of pattern of a decline in services, really throughout the country.”

On Monday, Sen. Susan Collins, chair of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, and Sen. Robert Casey, ranking member of the committee, sent a letter to the General Services and the Social Security administrations inquiring about the recent office closures.

“We write to express our deep concern that the recently announced closures of multiple field offices continues a trend that will significantly affect the quality of service that the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides,” wrote the Maine Republican and Pennsylvania Democrat, respectively.

They asked the agencies to jointly brief the committee before June 15 regarding their plans to continue to meet the needs of families who use field office services as they continue to close.

In addition to office closures, the senators wrote that they were worried about cuts to service hours at Social Security offices, rising wait times and growing hearing backlogs — all findings detailed in a recent Social Security Administration inspector general’s report.

“Particularly concerning are reports that in at least some of the locations where offices were closed, the reason cited for the closure was the inability of GSA to locate acceptable real estate within the geographical area served by the closed or consolidated offices,” as was the case in Baltimore, the letter continues.

The GSA could not be reached for comment.

Richtman said older citizens and people with disabilities — particularly those who rely on public transportation — would be affected most negatively by the closure of the Baltimore office.

“Our concern is really the concern of people who need to use the services of that office and are going to have to travel long distances and end up in another office, which is already overcrowded,” Richtman said.

The next-closest Social Security field offices are located in downtown Baltimore at 1010 Park Ave., Belair-Edison at 2401 Belair Road, Northwest Baltimore at 6100A Wabash Ave. and Towson at 28 Allegheny Ave.

Tammy Bresnahan, advocacy director for AARP Maryland, said there should have been more thought put into the North Baltimore office’s closure. She suggested Social Security could provide alternatives to a brick-and-mortar office, such as kiosks, that still allow users to access services nearby.

“It’s about how do you serve the people that have paid into the system,” she said. “If Social Security wants to close, they should ask the community how they utilize it.”

In addition to visiting Social Security offices, Tiggeman said, customers can access services online through personalized Social Security accounts or by calling 1-800-772-1213. People with hearing impairments can call 1-800-325-0778.

Clarke said many of her senior constitutents don’t use or have access to the internet.

“To try to put eveything online in America cuts out people of low income and people of high age,” she said. “It’s still a person-to-person situation for the elders as well as for households of low income that don’t have internet service.”

smeehan@baltsun.com

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