After many years of seeing Social Security Administration representatives at Kenai City Hall each month, clients were directed instead to the Kenai Senior Center on Tuesday where assistance will now be available via video conference.
"It provides better service, allowing for more dates twice and possibly three times a month," said public affairs specialist Bessie Young.
Kenai, which is Social Security's busiest field-services location outside of Anchorage, is being used as a pilot for the video service, she said.
Previously one or two Social Security representatives would travel from Anchorage to Kenai once a month to answer people's questions about retirement benefits, first-time issuance of Social Security cards for children, replacement of lost Social Security cards, updates of addresses and other information.
The video conference technology will allow people to meet with Social Security representatives the first and third Wednesdays of every month from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., beginning in March. The next February date is Feb. 20. In the future, a third monthly date may be added.
On Tuesday, 15 people initially signed up to be linked with an Anchorage representative via Web cam, but before the first person was finished, the number of people waiting to be seen had doubled.
The Social Security representative at the Anchorage end of the link Tuesday said this time of year, most of the client visits involve getting Social Security numbers for children as people begin preparing their income tax returns.
"We try to help people within about 15 minutes," she said.
"We're talking about adding more time frame," said Tuan Nguyen, Social Security Administration manager for Alaska, who was on hand for the video rollout in Kenai on Tuesday.
"We've been working on this for about a year," said Kathy Romain, Kenai senior services director. "We hope it will eliminate a lot of waiting."
Kenai City Clerk Carol Freas said Social Security reps have been coming to Kenai City Hall since at least 1990, when she began working there.
"They would see about 100 or more people during the day," Freas said.
Social Security would meet with clients from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., but switched to a 10-2 day when they began sending two representatives instead of one, Freas said.
Freas, whose office is directly across the hall from the city council chambers where the Social Security reps formerly set up shop, said clients ranged all the way from people with babies in their arms to people of retirement age and older.
People may still obtain publications and forms, file for benefits, replace Medicare cards or receive additional services online at www.socialsecurity.gov.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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