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With little warning, Social Security closes Camden office

Consolidates services to Columbia, Florence, Sumter

Posted: March 18, 2014 4:49 p.m.
Updated: March 19, 2014 5:00 a.m.

The Social Security Administration permanently closed the doors on its Camden office inside 1111 Broad St. on Friday, March 7. There appeared to be little notice to the public with clients contacting the media asking what had happened and others showing up at its second floor offices trying to get in.

It seems, however, that the SSA had planned to shut down the office for some time and consolidate functions and employees to its Columbia, Florence and Sumter locations.

“This consolidation allows us to maximize available resources to meet public service expectations and will ensure a more consistent level of service to the public throughout the combined service area,” Frank Viera, the SSA’s deputy regional communications director in the agency’s Atlanta Public Affairs Office, said in an email.

Viera said the federal government estimates it will save taxpayers more than $3 million during the next 10 years -- $300,000 a year -- by consolidating the Camden office to the other locations. He also said that it will help the agency better handle the effects of employee attrition.

“Social Security regularly reviews our service sites to determine if it makes business sense to continue operating them,” Viera said. “Many factors influence our decision to consolidate such an office, such as the characteristics of the service area, the proximity of nearby offices, service delivery options, projected cost savings, the ability of the employees to relocate to other offices, employee attrition and whether the office is adequate for the safety and security of office visitors and employees.”

Viera said the decision to move out of the Camden office was made after considering these factors.

He also stated that, during the last few months, SSA has notified “key stakeholders” of the closing. Viera said those stakeholders included local leaders, service organizations, government agencies and members of Congress. He said stakeholders were contacted through letters, phone calls and personal visits.

Camden Mayor Tony Scully said a couple of SSA employees stopped by his office some time ago. Scully said he assumed the SSA had contacted the media because the employees told him the closure was imminent. He said the employees alerted him and City Manager Mel Pearson that the local office would be closing.

“It was a done deal,” Scully said. “With that, we did not have much to discuss.”

The mayor provided a two-page handout given to the city by the SSA employees. The first page is a form letter stating that the SSA office would close March 7 and consolidate with the Columbia, Florence and Sumter offices. It also describes services that can be provided by phone or on the SSA’s website. The second page lists the three SSA offices -- along with one in Rock Hill in York County -- by zip codes those offices will cover:

Clients in the Camden (29020), Cassatt (29032), Lugoff (29078) and Westville (29175) areas are directed to the Sumter office.

Those clients living in the Elgin (29045) area are being sent to Columbia, while those in Liberty Hill (29074) are being asked to go to Rock Hill.

SSA clients in Bethune’s 29009 zip code are directed to the Florence office.

Using online mapping services, the C-I estimates clients who used to visit the Camden office might have to travel up to an hour away to visit one of the other offices.

A check on the SSA’s website revealed that Kershaw County clients with Ridgeway addresses (29130) are supposed to use the Columbia office; Heath Springs (29058) and Kershaw (29067) the Rock Hill office; Jefferson (29718) the Benettsville office; and Bishopville (29010) and Rembert (29128) the Sumter office.

Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter said he remembers receiving a letter, but that it was presented “rather matter of factly” and that he received no phone calls or personal visits. He said he received the communication some time ago and that it “was a rather understated effort.”

State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk said she only learned about the closure “through the grapevine” and does not recall receiving a letter from the agency.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen said he had no recollection of being notified of the closing.

“(It’s) another step in the limiting of access to government in small town South Carolina and America,” Sheheen said in an email.

Viera said that, despite the closure, most SSA clients should be able to conduct their business with the agency without having to travel to Columbia, Florence or Sumter. He said many items can be handled either by phone (1-800-772-1213) or on its website (www.socialsecurity.gov). Viera said website services include applying for SSA retirement/spousal benefits, applying for disability benefits, checking benefit and payment information, starting direct deposit of benefit payments, applying for assistance with Medicare prescription drug costs and obtaining replacement Medicare cards. He also said that part of the website is dedicated to Spanish-speaking clients.

If a personal visit is necessary, Viera said, clients who used to visit the Camden office can go to one of the following three offices:

• Strom Thurmond Federal Building, 11th Floor, 1835 Assembly Street in Columbia (1-866-964-7594)

• 240 Bultman Drive in Sumter (1-877-445-0840)

• 181 Dozier Blvd. in Florence (1-888-385-1173)

All three offices are open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays.

After Viera’s initial response, the C-I sent an email asking the following questions:

• What was it about the Camden office’s characteristics that led to the decision to close the office?

• Is there an established policy concerning the distance between offices, or a policy that speaks to population levels needing to be serviced?

• How many employees worked at the Camden office?

• Was there anything about the Camden office that brought up security and safety concerns?

• What types of services did most clients seek by coming in to the office, and were there too few clients seeking those services to sustain face-to-face contacts?

In both its initial inquiry and in its second email to Viera, the C-I also asked if the SSA ever issued a media alert about the closing. Viera had not responded to these questions by deadline Tuesday.

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