NORWALK, Conn. Tracy Wen and Sonny Luo made their way through the cluttered lobby of a Belden Avenue office building Friday, walking through an obstacle course of metal filing cabinets stacked here and there. It was a work in progress, as Norwalk's Internal Revenue Service office prepared to move to iPark, a Main Avenue complex.
But as one federal institution currently located at 24 Belden Ave. opens an office within the confines of Norwalk, another government bureau is closing its doors entirely. U.S. Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., as well as U.S Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, were notified Jan. 6 that Norwalk's Social Security Administration office will close permanently Jan. 31, according to a statement.
Norwalkers and other Fairfield County residents will have to go to Stamford or Bridgeport to conduct Social Security business in person. According to the lawmakers' letter, the Norwalk Social Security office services residents of Norwalk as well as New Canaan, Ridgefield, Easton, Darien, Weston, Wilton and Westport.
"It stinks," one woman said as she walked away from the office. "It's not going to be as convenient. ... I know people that don't drive; it will make everyone's job harder."
No public announcement has been made. Marcia Kasony visited the office for the first time Friday after reading a letter to the editor in The Hour that morning. She had been planning to go there in a few weeks to file her retirement papers, but "today was the day."
Himes, Blumenthal and Lieberman sent a letter to Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue on Wednesday expressing their "serious concerns" and asking that the closure be postponed.
"We are united in our objection to this decision and the SSA timeline to close this office without retaining a satellite office or services in Norwalk as this action will place an undue hardship on beneficiaries," said the lawmakers.
The office services about 320 clients per week and operates in a service area with 45,000 elderly persons, according to the statement.
It's possible to do business online or to get help over the phone, but Wen and Luo had problems with that. Wen said she clicked "continue" on a computer and then couldn't get the password she needed. She tried calling the Social Security Administration. "It's hard to get through. You have to wait more than 20 minutes. Nobody picks up the phone," she said. "So that's why we had to find the location to talk to them."
Luo was frustrated; he can do business online with banks and it's no problem. "You can check the information, everything online," he said. "But not the Social Security."
The married Chinese immigrants made an impression on Kasony, who watched a Social Security worker try unsuccessfully to get their online account to work. The pair must wait for a new password to be mailed to them.
Kasony's own experience was better. "She was very helpful," she said of the employee who assisted her. "I will definitely recommend to somebody that they try to go to the office and try to speak to someone personally."
Employees told her that they were informed Friday that the office was closing and they will be assimilated into other offices.
"It was almost that they were stunned," she said. "They weren't complaining, they just knew that it was closing. They just said, you know, they been working here for many, many years and there was very short notice. The public knows nothing about this. I saw the woman's letter to the editor and she was complaining about that. That was the only reason I knew about this."
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