'This is ridiculous. We're human': People wait outside social security offices in near-record heat

Tom Abrahams Image
Monday, June 13, 2022
People wait outside social security offices in near-record heat
Countless people are standing outside in near-record heat for hours, waiting to get help with essential benefits from Social Security Administration offices.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- All you have to do is step outside to feel the heat. But imagine standing outside, for hours, waiting to get help with essential benefits. That's exactly what's happening to countless people as they visit local Social Security Administration offices.

Ronnie Pierre was among the dozens of Houstonians we met outside the social security administration office off Dillard Road. They were standing, sitting, and even lying down as they waited to get their turn inside to get assistance with essential benefits.

"It's going up. It's hot," Pierre said after standing in the nearly 100-degree temperatures for more than an hour.

"They should make some other arrangements. Make it better, you know, a place for someone to come in and stay cool and sit," Pierre said.

Many of those in line suffer from disabilities or illnesses. While we spoke to those in line, someone from the office came outside to speak with us.

We were told to contact the Dallas regional office. We did. Several times on the phone and by email. We also messaged the national office on the east coast. We received no solution.

Although, we found a statement from April by the acting director when offices reopened after COVID-19.

"To avoid waiting in line, I strongly encourage people who can (to) use our online services. Call us, and schedule appointments in advance rather than walking in without an appointment. Customers who walk in without appointments may encounter delays and longer waits at our offices," the director said in the statement.

But there is not just one line at this location. We found two. Yalenia Ureno was here for three hours when we spoke with her.

"We were in the wrong line because nobody told us," Ureno said about her extended wait.

The lines are because of COVID, but that does not explain why there aren't some accommodations from an agency whose sole responsibility is helping people. Especially given that some told us they kept getting disconnected on the phone and that appointments are not available for months.

Melisa Patterson stood in the heat for hours, waiting for her turn to step inside the Social Security Administration office in northwest Houston because she could not get help on the phone.

"It's very hot. I know it's 99 right now," Patterson said. "(I am) Still waiting. Not even close to the door. They're only letting two people in."

Those in line told us they could not get help on the phone or online and they need help with their social security or supplemental security income, benefits upon which they desperately rely.

"I've been standing here since nine this morning," said Pamela Lee, who called ABC13 last week to complain when she said she stood in line for hours and never got a turn inside. "There are other people who have standing here longer than I have. This is not making any sense anymore. We're human."

"I didn't expect this at all," Tamara Jones told ABC13. "I think they could have done a better job, pass out water or masks, or something like that."

Instead, they waited in the heat. And, like us, they got no answers as to why.

We did get a new statement from the administration late Monday afternoon, which suggested most businesses can be completed online or on the phone and that "consistent with their union agreements," they continue to require certain COVID safety measures.

Still, they provided no alternative solutions to waiting outside.

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