Efforts to fix SSA system are constant

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In past columns, I have discussed with you some of the services my casework office provides to the people of Ohio. Last year, my experienced casework staff opened more than 5,600 cases and brought nearly three-fourths of them to a successful close.

One area in which my casework office is particularly astute is in matters of Social Security.

I understand that Social Security problems can seem overwhelming and daunting, but you don’t have to tackle them alone. If you haven’t been receiving your payments, have been receiving incorrect payments or have inquiries regarding the payments of family members, my hard-working staff can help.

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I am committed to making sure you receive the correct payments in a timely manner. My Congressional caseworkers assume the role of a liaison between you and the appropriate government agency. They are responsible for exploring all avenues that are available to resolve your concerns.

Recently, my office helped a Cuyahoga

County woman correct her Social Security payment. She asked us for assistance because our staff helped her in 2005, when her late sister’s Social Security payment — which was due to her estate — had been held. For a second time, my office was able to successfully assist this Ohioan and bring her case to a successful end.

Cases just like these are addressed every day and we can fortunately report many more successes than failures. That’s because my staff has a desire to work hard, long hours and do whatever it takes to serve Ohioans.

Should you need assistance when dealing with your Social Security payment, or any other agency of the federal government for that matter, please do not hesitate to call my office. I offer a toll-free constituent hotline with seven-day-a-week coverage at (800) 205-6446. You may also submit a casework request by visiting my Web site at www.voinovich.senate.gov.

Besides overseeing individual cases for constituents, I am also pushing for improvements in Social Security on the national level. I have met with Michael Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, on multiple occasions to raise my concerns about the backlog of claims and the long delays in scheduling hearings throughout Ohio. In fact, Commissioner Astrue attended my roundtable in Ohio last year, where he sat down with the managers of all the Hearing Offices in the state.

I am particularly pleased that Commissioner Astrue has recognized the significance of the problem in Ohio and — since January — has hired 13 new administrative law judges. He assured me that the Social Security Administration expects to see further improvements when the automated case writing system and template is deployed.

I am constantly trying to find ways to fix the system. Last year, I was once again proud to sponsor the Government Pension Offset Reform Act, which fixes an unfair penalty on government retirees who are eligible for a Social Security surviving spouse benefit. Under current law, the Social Security spousal benefit is reduced or completely eliminated if the surviving spouse receives a pension based on a local, state or federal government job that was not covered by Social Security.

Nearly 400,000 Americans are affected by this penalty, including more than 50,000 Ohioans. The national number grows by nearly 20,000 retirees each year.

Almost 60 percent of the survivors affected by this law are women. Women are more likely to receive Social Security spousal benefits and to have worked in low-paying or short-term government positions while they were raising families. This modification will give these women, who have contributed years of service to both government and family, a larger amount of retirement income.

I have always placed the needs of Ohioans above all else, regardless of what office I held at the time - because, for me and my staff, Ohioans always come first.

George Voinovich is a member of the U.S. Senate and represents Ohio.