August 09, 2013

Social Security offering W. Hawaii video service

West Hawaii residents will have two opportunities a month to meet with a Social Security representative without driving to Hilo.

The meeting won’t happen in person, but via a computer and video connection between the Social Security Administration’s Hilo office and an office at the West Hawaii Civic Center. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Social Security officials announced the twice-monthly service, which begins Aug. 22, Thursday morning.

Kona residents raised questions about access to Social Security services last year, when satellite office hours were cut to one visit a month for three and a half hours to serve an average of 150 people. Outside those once-a-month events, West Hawaii residents had to drive to Hilo to visit the office in person, or access services online, something residents said wasn’t an easy alternative for some seniors or people with disabilities.

A West Hawaii Today article brought the situation to Hirono’s attention. The senator spent almost a year and a half asking Social Security officials to increase services in West Hawaii. Officials, in letters to Hirono’s office, claimed they did not have the funds to continue even the limited hours they were offering at the West Hawaii Civic Center.

“If the service is not accessible, we’re not doing our jobs,” Hirono said Thursday. “Driving all the way to Hilo is a four- or five-hour round trip process. That’s asking a lot of people.”

Hirono tested out the computer system as she spoke with a Hilo employee and Social Security employees in the San Francisco Regional Office. A special camera equipped with a blacklight will be used to verify the authenticity of documents brought to the civic center office. Volunteers from groups such as AARP will help serve clients seeking Social Security information, which saves the administration from having to bring employees from Hilo to staff the office.

“A lot of time is saved,” Hirono said, adding video conferencing is less expensive, too.

Hawaii County officials agreed to allow the administration to use the office space, something Social Security spokeswoman Jane Burigsay acknowledged during the announcement. The service, which will be open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, could not have happened without Hirono or Hawaii County help, she said.

Burigsay also extended her thanks to West Hawaii residents “for their patience and understanding” as the administration worked to provide services despite budget cuts.

Hirono said her office had to be persistent in contacting Social Security to get officials to agree to continue offering Kona services.

“It took some effort,” Hirono said. “We had to figure out the best way to preserve this service.”

Read the entire piece here:

By:  Erin Miller
Source: West Hawaii Today