FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Fairfield County lawmakers have written to the commissioner of the Social Security Administration to protest plans to close Norwalk’s Social Security Office and relocate its employees.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, along with U.S. Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal, urged Commissioner Michael Astrue to reconsider the decision. The Democratic legislators also asked him to postpone the closing of the office so the lawmakers can review the concerns of the community.
“We are united in our objection to this decision and the SSA timeline to close this office without retaining a satellite office or services in Norwalk as this action will place an undue hardship on beneficiaries,” the lawmakers said in a statement.
The office serves 320 clients a week and operates in a service area that includes about 45,000 senior citizens. In their letter, the lawmakers also expressed dismay over an apparent delay in notification of the administration’s plans to close the office.
Full text of the letter:
January 11, 2012
Mr. Michael Astrue
Social Security Administration
6401 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21235-0001
Re: Decision to Close the Norwalk, Connecticut, Social Security Office
Dear Commissioner Astrue:
We are writing today to express our serious concerns with the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) decision to permanently close the Norwalk, Connecticut, Social Security Office. We are united in our objection to this decision and the SSA’s timeline to close this office without retaining a satellite office or services in Norwalk as this action will place an undue hardship on beneficiaries.
On Friday, January 6, 2012, our offices were notified by the SSA’s Boston Regional Office of its decision to permanently close the Norwalk SSA office on January 31, 2012. SSA advised that this decision was made due to nonrenewal of its lease and other budgetary concerns. SSA further advised there would be no layoffs, that staff would be relocated to other SSA offices within the Norwalk service area, and that it had no plans to keep staff or a satellite office open in the Norwalk area.
The Norwalk SSA office provides critical services to over 137,000 seniors and disabled individuals, within Norwalk and the following surrounding towns: New Canaan, Ridgefield, Easton, Darien, Weston, Wilton and Westport. Over 320 individuals visit this office each week, and we are concerned that requiring these clients to move to an alternate service site will not only be an inconvenience to them, but could possibly overwhelm the offices to which these clients will be forced to move. We are very concerned by the number of individuals that will be displaced as a result of this closure, the effect of increased travel time on a disabled population, and the potential differences in parking, safety, public transportation and existing volume in the offices slated to serve Norwalk users. We therefore request you send all data used by your office to make the determination to close the Norwalk SSA office, including total number of individuals using each office in the New England Region, the effect of increased traffic time on the senior and disabled populations, and the potential differences in parking, safety and public transportation access between the Norwalk office and the offices slated to receive Norwalk users.
It has been brought to our attention that SSA has been aware of its lease non-renewal and possibility of closing this office since June 2011. This matter, however, was not brought to our attention until January 6, 2012. We are disappointed that the SSA made a decision to close this office over six months ago, yet failed to notify our offices until just three weeks prior to its closing date.
We urge you to reconsider your decision, suspend the closure of the Norwalk office, and give full review to our concerns. We stand ready to assist you in finding a workable solution to ensure the senior and disabled populations of the Norwalk area have ready access to government services. At the very least, we are requesting that SSA provide us with a closing plan that includes an accessible SSA satellite office located in Norwalk. Thank you for your immediate attention to this urgent constituent matter.