HARWICH — When it comes to Social Security, there are some questions and problems that can't be answered by a website or a phone call. For those needing face-to-face help, a new resource is available in Harwich. The Social Security Administration is now offering assistance to recipients via video conferencing from the community center once a month.
Harwich is the first video service site on Cape Cod and is part of a pilot program by the Social Security Administration, Council on Aging Director Barbara-Anne Foley said.
Participants need to sign up for appointments ranging from 15 minutes to an hour, held in a conference room at the community center on the third Monday of each month. The room has a desk with a television screen, and clients simply sit down and converse with a specially trained expert working from the service center in Hyannis or Falmouth.
Participants don't need to touch the screen or operate any electronics, and the secure conversation is not recorded, so it's safe to share Social Security numbers or other sensitive information, Foley said. While many common questions are answered on the Social Security website, www.SocialSecurity.gov, or by calling the administration's toll-free number, 800-772-1213, some seniors find it easier to chat face-to-face.
“The telephone line is often busy or there are long waits,” Foley added. The video link provides personalized help without having to drive to Hyannis. “You're talking to someone on a TV screen, so you have a live body in front of you,” she said.
Many of the video appointments are likely to be for routine requests, Foley added.
“Sometimes it's things like, they need a replacement card or a replacement benefits sheet,” she said. In such cases, the interview tends to be quick, and the caseworker sends the necessary documents to the recipient by mail. But the service is particularly important for more complicated requests.
“They can actually sign up for Social Security disability or Social Security benefits in general. Those are unbelievably long processes in Hyannis,” Foley said. The free video service is available to anyone on Cape Cod, of any age.
To book an appointment, call 508-430-7550. The next session in Harwich will take place on March 20.
Foley said she heard about the Social Security video service during a state conference of council on aging directors, where a representative of the administration said Social Security is seeking to make their services more accessible to people in rural areas or in places where many recipients are unable to drive or have low incomes. She offered to make Harwich available as a beta testing site.
Organizers are still working out the kinks in the system. One difficulty is in predicting how much time a client will need with a caseworker, without asking the client about their personal business. Sometimes a full hour is needed, and often 15 minutes is sufficient.
“One woman was in and out in five minutes,” Foley said. “She was thrilled.” But another man came to ask what he needs to do in advance of his 65th birthday next year. “That was a fairly lengthy conversation.” Sometimes, clients may need to wait a few minutes for their appointment to begin, she said.
It's also difficult for officials to gauge how popular the program is likely to be, since it began only last month. Should demand prove to be high, the administration has offered to add another day of appointments each month, Foley said.