Tester calls for Social Security hearing site in Great Falls
Senator says previous closure ‘placed extreme hardship’ on Montanans
(WOLF POINT, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester is calling on the Social Security Administration to open a new hearing site in Great Falls.
The agency closed its Great Falls hearing site last year. The facility was one of the busiest in the state, serving Montanans unable to travel to other hearing sites in Kalispell, Billings, or Helena. Social Security hearings are held for individuals who are denied benefits.
Tester, whose office assists constituents with hundreds of cases involving their Social Security, said re-establishing a hearing site in Great Falls would better serve Montanans across north-central Montana.
“Considering the vast area and diverse population in the area, establishing a permanent remote hearing site in Great Falls makes good sense,” Tester today wrote Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue. “I fully support a permanent remote hearing site in Great Falls and urge you to make it one of your top priorities, while using taxpayer dollars as carefully as possible.”
Social Security’s decision to close its Great Falls location has created numerous scheduling difficulties and cost taxpayers more to pay for travel expenses, Tester added.
Tester also noted that the facility served numerous disabled veterans due to its proximity to Malmstrom Air Force Base, as well as several Indian reservations.
Tester’s letter to Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue is available below and online HERE.
April 12, 2012
The Honorable Michael Astrue
Social Security Administration
6401 Security Blvd., Ste. 900
Baltimore, MD 21235
Dear Commissioner Astrue:
I write in support of the proposal to establish a permanent remote hearing site in Great Falls, Montana.
The Great Falls hearing site, prior to closure, was one of the busiest in Montana. The Great Falls site served a very rural part of Montana as well as several Indian reservations. It also served a very high density of disabled veterans given the proximity to a major Air Force base. Many of its clients live at or below the poverty line and do not have the means to travel the long distances to Kalispell, Billings or Helena for a hearing. The vast distances pose a challenge to people travelling who aren’t suffering from disabilities. During our long winters, a two-hour drive can unexpectedly turn into a six-hour drive. Extreme weather in North Central Montana is not an infrequent occurrence.
Since the Great Falls site was closed last year, my office has received hundreds of complaints from attorneys, representatives, and claimants about the decision. It has certainly placed an extreme hardship on Montanans. The agency has experienced scheduling difficulties and has incurred additional travel expenses as a result of this decision. The Social Security Administration has yet to establish even a video site in Great Falls to alleviate some of these problems.
Considering the vast area and diverse population in the area, establishing a permanent remote hearing site in Great Falls makes good sense. I fully support a permanent remote hearing site in Great Falls and urge you to make this proposal one of your top priorities for capital improvements as soon as possible, while using taxpayer dollars as carefully as possible.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can provide additional information or otherwise assist you in this process.