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Posted: December 25, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Social Security office to be built in 2010

A new Social Security office will be built in Covington in 2010 to help the Social Security Administration reduce the number of residents who are waiting to receive disability insurance and other SS benefits.

Getting disability insurance under Social Security can be a long, complicated and convoluted process. As a result, hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents who have applied for disability are still waiting to have their cases heard or to have their appeals heard.

That number has continued to grow every year, and as of October, the beginning of the federal fiscal year, Georgia had more than 28,000 pending hearing cases. Nationwide the number was 760,813.

After several years of debate and examination, the SSA embarked on a plan to reduce the hearings backlog. In fiscal year 2009, the SSA received an additional $500 million of stimulus money in order to process its rapidly rising retirement and disability workloads and to reduce the hearings backlog, said Patti Patterson, the SSA’s Regional Communications Director.

"The monies were and are being spent on enhancing automation, hiring additional staff and adding needed office space," she said.

One of those offices and some of those additional staff will be in Covington, where the SSA is opening a new hearing office. The office is expected to be opened by the middle of 2010, and Patterson said the SSA is planning to hire nine administrative law judges, who hear cases about whether residents should receive SS benefits. On average four and a half support staff members are hired for every judge, so the new office could create more than 40 jobs.

Patterson said the office is being located in Covington, because the SSA felt another hearing office was needed in Metro Atlanta. There are two existing offices in Atlanta, and the Covington office will be called the Atlanta south office. Hearing offices are also located in Macon and Savannah.

Stan Bourne, with Prudential Colony Realty, is handling the sale of the land that will be used for the building. He said it will be located directly in front of the Indian Creek Golf Course on Covington Bypass Road.

The building will be 32,000 sq. ft. and will be located on a 3.5 acre site. The building will have two floors of 16,000 sq. ft. each, and for security purposes the SS office will be located on the second floor.

Bourne said this is one of the largest construction jobs that has come to Newton County recently. He said a 32,000 square-foot building is large, compared to most other office buildings that are only around 5,000 sq. ft. Bourne said the first floor is expected to be used for office space as well, but no interested parties have contacted him.

"Nine judges and support staff will bring a lot of jobs to Newton County, as well as all of the construction jobs. Also with the tenants we get on the first floor that could bring even more jobs. We’re a looking at a lot of space and a lot of employees," Bourne said. "This is a great project for this time in the economy."

The hearing office will open down the street from the existing Covington SS field office. Patterson said the existing office provides a wide range of SS services to the public, ranging from taking applications for SS benefits to applications for SS cards and numbers.

The hearing offices will be primarily for judges to conduct hearings on whether residents receive benefits from any of the numerous SS programs.

So far in 2009, the number of pending cases in Georgia has been reduced from 28,004 to 19,240. The national number of pending cases has been reduced by nearly 40,000 to 722,822.

The average number of days to process a request for a hearing has also been reduced from 523 days to 500 days.

The waiting period is important, especially for citizens seeking disability benefits, because they are often unable to work and, therefore, become financially strained quickly.

The SSA doesn’t keep the number of pending hearing cases by county, but 15,986 Newton County Residents receive Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income Benefits, Patterson said.

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