Moultrie Observer

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April 6, 2012

Social Security to close here

MOULTRIE — With the Moultrie Social Security office on the budget chopping block, officials are hoping a way to find a way to prevent the closure scheduled for the end of June.

The agency said this week that the closing was based on a review of the office, significant budget shortfalls and other service options available to residents. The move is anticipated to save $2.1 million over 10 years.

In Georgia the Social Security Administration also closed its Swainsboro office in December, Patti Patterson, regional communications director in Atlanta, said in an email response. So far the agency has closed eight offices nationally with expected savings of $2 million annually.

The 2012 closings all are of offices that employ less than 11 and serve less than 80 visitors a day, Patterson said. Moultrie’s office has 11 employees and serves about 60 people per day. Those employees will be offered employment in other nearby offices.

Colquitt County residents can still access services by telephone, over the internet or in Albany, Thomasville, Tifton or Valdosta offices, Patterson said.

Darrell Moore, president of the Moultrie-Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce, said the closing will have a significant impact.

“You’ll be losing the office, people will have to commute,” he said. “You’re going to end up making it more of a burden for our citizens.”

Moore said he has been in contact with Sens. Saxby Chamblliss’ and Johnny Isakson’s offices and plans to enlist city and county officials in examining what can be done to prevent the closing.

“We certainly want the office here,” he said. “We’re going to see what we can do. I think they had this predetermined before notifying anybody.”

Losing the office would have a significant impact for personal care home Heritage Healthcare at Sunrise, Administrator Angie Milner said. The 60-bed facility works closely with the Moultrie Social Security office on a number of issues, including getting residents approved through Medicaid.

That’s also true for the other three care homes in Moultrie that serve hundreds of patients, Milner said.

“That’s kind of our lifeline with us and the patients and our families,” she said of the Moultrie office.

The facility also helps residents with other issues that come up with Social Security while they stay there, she said.

Senior citizens often are not computer users, so that option would not work for many, Milner said.

Getting to and from offices in surrounding counties also could be a problem for people in an area where transportation is an issue for many, said Jose Jimenez, president of the Local 4056 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

“The closest office, the Tifton office, is 28 miles away, if you think of a person that’s disabled or an elderly person who has no transportation,” he said. “There is a 78,356 service population for the Moultrie office.”

The internet also can be tricky as a search for Social Security can bring up sites that are not official, Jimenez said. In the past people have entered personal information into sites that are not affiliated with Social Security, compromising that information.

And those who do not have a computer will be forced to go through lengthy applications -- a disability claim can take up to two hours -- in public places like libraries, also running the risk of having information viewed by others, he said.

“We’re concerned about the agency moving forward with the elimination of the face-to-face interview,” Jimenez said. “They are alleging they will be saving money by closing the Moultrie office, but they have not provided the proof they will be saving money.

“I think it’s cost-effective to maintain that office and to serve the public. They actually should increase the staff and validate the need for that office.”

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