Kona virtual Social Security office future in limbo
The future of a virtual Social Security office at West Hawaii Civic Center is in limbo because of space constraints at the county building.
Since 2013, West Hawaii residents could visit a virtual Social Security office at the West Hawaii Civic Center instead of having to drive to Hilo for in-person assistance. This arrangement was a bi-weekly, four-hour service made possible by a secure computer with a camera.
Volunteers from AARP Hawaii provided access to a private office as well as monitored traffic flow. The service was well received, as folks would line up as early as 5:30 a.m. to obtain a spot in line for the 9 a.m. opening. Volunteers would see upward of 40-50 people in line waiting for services. Often, people waiting at the DMV to get their license renewed would also come over to obtain a Social Security card because they had either misplaced the original, or laminated it, which is not valid.
The service went offline during the pandemic.
AARP Hawaii was hopeful they would be able to resume services in September, however, this is not the case for now.
AARP Hawaii volunteer services coordinator Eileen Mena said she was at the civic center on other business about two weeks ago and stopped by Mayor Mitch Roth’s office to inquire as to what was happening and that’s when she was told there was no room for them and all of the offices were taken.
She then talked to the manager of the Hilo Social Security office who informed her if there was no room, the federal office just wouldn’t provide the service in West Hawaii.
Even though most services are available on the Social Security website, Mena said many of the seniors are not tech-savvy.
“The broadband isn’t out there, a lot of people don’t have good connections to get it. A lot don’t have computers or don’t want to learn computers, so these are the people that need the majority of the help here,” she said. “This means West Hawaii residents must drive to Hilo for Social Security appointments.”
Mena said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono helped set up the teleconferencing in 2013 and impressed upon SSA the need for West Hawaii to be able to teleconference with the Hilo office.
“Kupuna on Hawaii Island have relied on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) virtual office at the West Hawaii Civic Center for years,” said Hirono. “In 2013, I worked with SSA, the County, and AARP to set up the virtual site so that seniors wouldn’t have to drive several hours round trip to Hilo to receive assistance from SSA. In 2019, I met with the AARP Hawaii volunteer staffers to thank them for their work. I am working with our local partners again to find a solution so that West Hawaii residents have access to the services they need.”
Mena encouraged West Hawaii residents to contact Hirono with concerns of losing the benefit of the virtual office.
Attempts to reach Roth’s office for comment were unsuccessful as of press time Wednesday.
“We know that volunteering at the Civic Center was a good thing for the community,” said Mena.
Questions regarding Social Security benefits can be directed to the Hilo office at (855) 572-4860.
The Hilo office does not accept walk-ins and any in-person meetings are by appointment only.