Ronald Reagan famously told us that government is the problem, not the solution. However, there is one part of the government that has truly been a part of the solution and truly has been of the people, by the people, and for the people -- Social Security's network of field offices.
However, at the end of July, the Social Security Administration released a plan resulting from a taxpayer-paid contract with the National Academy of Public Administration called Vision 2025, which calls for the end of Social Security field offices and 800 number service as we know it today.
My union, the American Federation of Government Employees, feels strongly that this plan is short-sighted and comes from the same blurry vision that over the last few years has resulted in the closing of more than 70 field offices throughout the country and the loss of 11,000 employees at a time when, each day, 10,000 Americans turn 65 years old.
The agency actually calls for the elimination of direct service in offices throughout California and the rest of the country. As workers in our communities, we have grown up with the people we serve; attending their schools, churches and synagogues, and participating in civic events. We are not some out-of-state or offshore contractor who knows nothing about the people we want to help. We are not machines. We are people who can answer their needs and respond to their questions.
While our country and our world has changed with technology, not everyone has a computer or a smart phone or even a phone, period. Not everyone understands complex government programs or can do it themselves. Sometimes people simply want to talk to other people about the major events in their lives and that is where we come in.
Social Security is the most successful insurance program in the world, with administrative costs taking up less than 2 percent of money collected. But despite this effort, programs like the Vision 2025 plan are brought forward. A plan that would have ended Social Security number verifications in August and Social Security benefit verifications in October has been shelved temporarily.
Congressman Brian Higgins of New York has proposed legislation HR 3997, the Social Security Accountability Act, to stop the continued office closings that have occurred and develop a process to deal with the public's needs.
Like the people we serve, Social Security and Medicare have birthdays. Medicare's 49th birthday was July 30 and Social Security turns 79 Aug. 14.
Our country has changed. Typewriters and adding machines that were used when I was a young employee are no longer with us. But the public's need to talk to living people continues. We urge everyone to contact their members of Congress and Senators to help ensure that the Social Security Administration vision for the future is one that is not shortsighted or nearsighted but corrected to see the needs of the public who deserve a workforce that will truly serve them well.
Howard Egerman is an Oakland resident and vice president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3172.