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Is Social Security Becoming a Pawn in the Postal Service Crisis?


When President Franklin Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935, federal officials creating the new system needed to sign up more than 26 million workers, and had just 17 months to get the job done. Their solution: post office letter carriers not only delivered Social Security applications, but helped people fill out forms, answered questions about the program, returned the forms to offices where Social Security cards were created — and then got the cards to workers. The entire job took just three weeks, according to Ms. Altman, who writes about the feat in her book “The Battle for Social Security: From FDR’s Vision to Bush’s Gamble.”

“President Roosevelt knew that the post office was an essential, trusted institution, that relying on it was the way to ensure that Social Security would have a successful launch,” Ms. Altman said. “Today, Americans highly value both institutions.”

Nowadays, Social Security sends 350 million pieces of mail annually to support its programs, according to an agency report last year.

One letter of special interest to beneficiaries is the notice of the annual cost-of-living adjustment, typically mailed in the late fall. By law, Social Security benefits are adjusted each year using a formula tied to the Consumer Price Index. The percentage increase is announced publicly in October, but the letter informs beneficiaries of the monthly dollar increase they will receive, taking into account any increase in the Medicare Part B premium, which typically is deducted from Social Security benefits.

Mr. DeJoy tried ease concerns while speaking to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Monday. “While we have had a temporary service decline, which should not have happened, we are fixing this,” he said. “In fact, as of last week, service improved across all major mail and package categories, and I am laser-focused on improving service for the American public.”

The temporary closing of Social Security’s field offices also has made it impossible to conduct routine walk-in business. The agency continues to operate mainly through telework, but many processes that normally would be handled in-person at the field offices are now being handled online, by phone, through the mail or are delayed, Mr. Lutz said.

Some procedures require important original documents, such as marriage certificates, driver’s licenses or passports to be sent through the mail, said Kathleen Romig, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. These include benefit claims, Medicare enrollment, issuing Social Security numbers and replacement cards, benefit verification statements and paperwork that must be filed to deal with changing life circumstances.

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