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Social Security to end direct assistance in Massena, Akwesasne

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MASSENA — Residents of Massena and the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation will have to travel to Ogdensburg to receive in-person assistance for Social Security after Feb. 12.

A representative from the Social Security Administration has hosted office hours on the second Tuesday of each month at the Massena Town Hall and Mohawk Tribal Building for the past several years.

But because of funding cuts, the SSA will no longer offer the service after next week. The closest location for in-person assistance will be the SSA office at 101 Ford St., Ogdensburg.

An SSA spokesman said the administration has faced $400 million in budgets cuts from 2010 to 2012 and has had to reduce its payroll by approximately 9,000 employees.

“We had to reduce the hours we are open to the public in order for our employees to complete processing the work,” SSA New York Regional Communications Director John Shallman wrote in an email.

He referred residents to contact the SSA online at www.socialsecurity.gov, or via telephone at 1-800-772-1213.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said elderly persons who rely on Social Security may be less adept at using technology.

“It’s different for senior citizens. Sometimes elderly persons don’t like doing things over the phone,” Mr. Gray said. “This is a decrease to the services for senior citizens in Massena.”

Mr. Gray said the town hall has always been busy on the days the SSA was in the building, addressing the retirement concerns of area residents. Deputy Town Clerk Pamela A. Catanzarite said the town clerk’s office receives daily calls from residents inquiring about the SSA representative’s visit.

Mayor James F. Hidy is also disappointed about the elimination of the service, noting that Ogdensburg is a nearly 40-mile drive from Massena, which could place a burden on some older residents.

“I feel the drive to Ogdensburg, particularly during the winter weather, is not ideal,” Mr. Hidy said.

Town officials say they have been in contact with local representatives in an effort to either continue the SSA service or to provide an adequate alternative to the representative. One possibility is the implementation of a computer monitor that would allow residents to speak with an SSA representative through an online video service, such as Skype. Mr. Gray said they are discussing how the technology would work, where it would be located and whether the town would have to hire an additional employee to operate the computer.

Mr. Shallman declined to comment on whether this computer service could be a likely alternative for the SSA’s monthly visits to Massena and Akwesasne.

“It’s very early to discuss technical options, but I would like to remind everyone that most, if not all, of the services being provided (by the representative) can be done over the phone, via mail or online,” Mr. Shallman said.

Town Clerk Georgette Davis is asking concerned residents to contact their state and federal representatives to share their concerns over the move.

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