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For 16 Months, Hirono Urged Social Security Administration To Expand West Hawaii Services & Worked With County and Volunteer Groups To Offer New Video Conferencing Service

Kona, HI – After working for 16 months to increase Social Security Administration (SSA) service for West Hawaii residents, Senator Mazie K. Hirono joined SSA Regional Commissioner Grace Kim and Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi to announce expanded Social Security services for residents at the West Hawaii Civic Center.

In November, the Social Security Administration announced it would end monthly Kona office hours due to budget constraints, forcing West Hawaii kupuna to make a four-hour roundtrip drive to meet with representatives.

Beginning August 22, residents will be able to go the West Hawaii Civic Center on the second and fourth Thursday of each month from 9am to 1pm to meet with SSA representatives using the new video conferencing system.

“This announcement is great news for Hawaii Island kupuna and shows that when we work together, we can make meaningful differences in people’s lives,” Hirono said. “This video conferencing service will greatly ease the ability of our kupuna to receive the Social Security services they have earned. I greatly appreciate the efforts of the Social Security Administration, Mayor Kenoi, as well as AARP Hawaii, the Hawaii Executive Office on Aging’s Sage PLUS program, and Hawaiian Telcom for getting this done.”

Hirono led the effort to coordinate with Hawaii County and a number of volunteer groups, including the Hawaii Island state librarians, AARP Hawaii, Sage PLUS, RSVP, and Medicare Patrol – to make the video conferencing service a reality for West Hawaii residents. At the urging of West Hawaii constituents and AARP Hawaii, Hirono initially contacted the SSA in April 2012 to address reports of crowding and long lines at the SSA monthly contact stations and to urge the agency to expand its monthly face-to-face Kona visits by Hilo SSA staff.

After the SSA announced it would end these monthly visits, Hirono continued to push for video conferencing services that wouldn’t require Hilo SSA staff to travel to Kona and worked closely with community leaders to execute a formal agreement and coordinate the location, service dates, and technical installation.

At today’s event, Hirono joined SSA Regional Commissioner Grace Kim and Mayor Kenoi to thank the volunteer groups and Hawaiian Telcom for their partnership in bringing this valuable service to the West Hawaii community.

“Mahalo to all the partners for working together to help our West Hawai'i seniors access the Social Security services they depend upon. We're happy to welcome this valuable community service to the West Hawai'i Civic Center,” said Mayor Billy Kenoi.

“Assistance made available via this video conferencing arrangement will be an economic lifeline for West Hawaii residents,” said AARP Hawaii State Director Barbara Kim Stanton. “Nearly a third of older Hawaii residents rely on Social Security for 50 percent or more of their family income. Our low- and middle-income seniors are even more reliant on Social Security’s earned benefit, typically receiving nearly three-quarters of their income from this vital program.

“AARP Hawaii is enormously grateful for the leadership and commitment of our community partners – the Social Security Administration, Mayor Billy Kenoi, and especially Senator Mazie Hirono, for responding to and working with AARP volunteers to make this service a reality,” Stanton added.

While Pamela Cunningham of the Hawaii Executive Office on Aging said, “The Executive Office on Aging’s Sage PLUS Program is inspired by the community volunteers and agencies of West Hawaii that have committed to this program to help their neighbors.”

“We’re proud to be helping as the technology partner on this innovative solution enabling West Hawaii residents to communicate ‘face-to-face’ with the Social Security Administration,” said Paul Krueger, Hawaiian Telcom’s Vice President – Sales & Product Marketing.