West Hawaii residents wait their turn to meet with a Social Security Administration employee at the West Hawaii Civic Center Tuesday morning. (West Hawaii Today/Erin Miller)
West Hawaii residents line shaded areas at the West Hawaii Civic Center Tuesday morning, as they await their turn to meet with a Social Security Administration employee. (West Hawaii Today/Erin Miller)
For the last time in the foreseeable future, the Social Security Administration offered satellite office hours in Kona Tuesday morning.
Social Security employees began calling West Hawaii residents in to the West Hawaii Civic Center’s community room at about 9:30 a.m. By just after 10 a.m., more than 120 people were signed up to use the services.
Kailua-Kona resident Theresa Jokiel had high praise for the Social Security employee she sat down with Tuesday.
“We had excellent service,” Jokiel said. “I got the majority of my questions answered.”
Before sitting down with a worker, Jokiel said a supervisor said her questions might be better answered by someone who had stayed in Hilo Tuesday. West Hawaii residents weren’t warned, until they arrived at the civic center, that employees visiting Kona might not be able to address all of their problems.
A sign, posted near a sign-in sheet, informed people they could not apply for retirement or disability benefits, nor could the workers answer questions about benefit amounts or types of benefits. Senior citizens could enroll in Medicare Part B if they were already enrolled in Medicare Part A, but new Medicare Part A and B enrollments needed to be done by appointment or online.
The three Social Security employees also seemed to be moving people through quickly, Jokiel said.
Jokiel and Jolyne Kanuha both questioned Social Security’s advice that people avoid coming to an office at all.
“It’s awesome that you can do it online, but who wants to send your original documents?” Kanuha said.
Jokiel agreed, adding she wonders what would happen if someone sent their driver’s license, for example, as a proof of identity and then was pulled over by police while the license was en route to or from the Social Security Administration.
She saw other potential problems with pushing people to do applications online.
“How about if you’re computer illiterate?” Jokiel asked. “Do we have programs at the public library to teach our community (how to do those services online)?”
A Social Security supervisor advised Jokiel and others to express their concerns to the state’s congressional delegation. The administration — which ended routine visits to Kona because of budget cuts — is looking at another 7.4 percent budget cut, Jokiel said.
Christopher Asuncion said he arrived and found he had about 50 people ahead of him in line. Getting to Hilo, the island’s only Social Security office, is too hard to do, he said.
“I don’t drive anymore,” he said. “It’s difficult.”
He didn’t mind waiting, he added.
Social Security Administration officials from Honolulu and the mainland, including someone from Washington, D.C., were supposed to meet with Hawaii Island employees Tuesday, including those working in Kona. A message left with a Social Security spokeswoman on Oahu was not immediately returned.
Last year, then-Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-2nd, told West Hawaii Today she would look into the administration’s reasoning for keeping such limited hours in West Hawaii. Not long after that, the administration ended the visits to West Hawaii entirely. They resumed the monthly visits in February, with the intention of coming here only through this month.