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Published April 08 2010

Social Security Administration staff talk with Pomeroy

Social Security Administration field offices in the Fargo area are experiencing the same challenge: More senior citizens are retiring.

SSA regional and local managers and employees talked Wednesday about the challenges they face in serving the public, during a roundtable discussion in Fargo with Rep. Earl Pomeroy. North Dakota’s congressman was recently named chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee.

As retirement and disability claims multiply in the Fargo district area, SSA employees find their resources shrinking.

For example, three long-term employees have retired since January, said Fargo District Manager Lee Gerlach.

A budget process that prevents vacancies from being immediately filled – coupled with years of underfunding – means SSA employees face the ever-worsening problem of a greater workload with fewer resources.

Without the ability to proactively hire and fill upcoming vacancies, it could mean up to two years of lag time between when one employee retires and when a replacement is fully trained, local and regional SSA managers say.

The challenge remains almost constant as more SSA employees retire.

Meanwhile, the number of people served by the SSA continues to increase as the baby boomer generation leaves the work force.

The growing number of claims adds to the workload pressure, Fargo area SSA employees said.

Because North Dakota’s population is comparatively older than the rest of the nation’s, Pomeroy said the experiences of the state’s field offices serve as a valuable gauge for what the rest of the country could see in the coming years.

“On the one hand, we have the disability backlog going off the chart and we’ve got basically a strangulation of resources through the rest of the system, and now we’ve gotta catch up just as the baby boomers hit,” Pomeroy said.

“We are fully funded in the president’s budget, which is a good thing, but we’re playing catch-up in a race we can’t win,” he added.

Pomeroy will host similar meetings in Grand Forks and Bismarck in the coming days to see how other state field offices are fairing.

He said the Social Security system is strong, and he wants to use a congressional subcommittee hearing next week in Washington to address how the administration’s field offices might better serve the public.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541