INDIANAPOLIS – “It’s insanity.” Stephanie Curbeaux was fed up. She was cold from spending the better part of two hours on Wednesday morning standing in a line outside the Social Security office in northwest Indianapolis. The temperature was in the mid-30s. But Curbeaux stood there, needing to get her name changed with the agency.
“I got divorced. I’ve been needing to get it changed. They wanted me to mail my official documents which I wasn’t going to do.” And now that they’re open. This is the third I’ve been up here. God, it just makes me so mad.”
Two placed behind Curbeaux in the line was Susan Taylor, who is recently widowed.
“My husband passed away and I’m here to collect the benefits, as his widow. They won’t make appointments online. Even when I call to make an appointment, they won’t allow you to make an appointment. So, I have to just stand in line in the cold.”
Another two placed behind Taylor was a woman holding a place in line for a friend. Gabriel James says his spinal pain is so bad the longest he can stand at one time is five minutes.
Long waits outside this Social Security office have been going on for months. Much of the overflow traffic has to do with federal COVID-19 office restrictions.
Long after mandatory mask-wearing faded away here in Indiana, people with business at the Social Security office still had to maintain 6-feet distancing. That sharply reduced the waiting room capacity at this office, meaning more people waiting in line outside regardless of the weather conditions.
CBS4 reached out to the Social Security Administration press office in Washington about why such restrictions remained in place after President Joe Biden had said on 60 Minutes, “The pandemic is over.”
Late Wednesday, the press office responded with an email. It reads in part:
“Prior to mid-September 2022, we had COVID-19 protocols that required physical distancing for visitors, reducing the capacity in our reception areas. Since Mid-September, this office has allowed its full capacity of 36 people. If the reception area is full, people may wait outside until a visitor leaves the office. While this occurs infrequently, this morning, October 19, there were 45 people at the office prior to the office opening. Upon opening the reception area to full capacity, 9 visitors waited for entry to the office.”
But we know visitor capacity at the office had been reduced as recently as last week.
Recently married CBS4 reporter, Courtney Crown, visited the office to change her name with the Social Security Administration. In the waiting area with a capacity of 13 people, Crown says she saw “less than a dozen”.
When she left there was a line. She estimates it was at least twenty people long.
We have let the Social Security press office know what it told us conflicts with what one of our reporters recently experienced. We were thanked for bringing that information to their attention and told, “Upon further inquiry, we are addressing this situation and ensuring this office consistently implements the agency’s new policy for visitors in our reception areas.
FOX59 also alerted Congressman Andre Carson and US Senators Mike Braun and Todd Young about the long, outdoor waits at the northwest Indianapolis Social Security office. Thus far, only Young’s office replied, with this:
“Americans returned to their normal lives long ago. Even President Biden has declared the pandemic to be over, but the agencies he runs are still failing to provide timely service in many cases. I have pushed the Administration to return to normalcy as so many of my constituents have and will push for better service for Hoosiers at this office.”
We checked back in this morning when the office opened and an interesting thing happened. 36 people were allowed to walk through the door. The line which had been a persistent presence outside the building disappeared. The line did not reappear when checked throughout the day.