The lone Social Security Administration field office in Arlington is officially set to close its doors two weeks from now, as county leaders continue to press for answers on why the location is shutting down.
The SSA announced in a news release Wednesday (June 6) that the office, located at 1401 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn, will close on June 22. That will force the roughly 25,000 Arlington residents who visit the office each year to leave the county to receive an in-person consultation on their benefits.
In its release, the SSA suggested that Arlingtonians will be able to visit the administration’s offices in Alexandria, Fairfax or D.C. instead, or even use the SSA’s online services. Yet, ever since news of the office’s closure became public last month, advocates for seniors and local elected officials have argued that Social Security recipients often lack the transportation options and technical savvy to make those alternatives viable.
“This field office is conveniently located for our older and disabled Arlington constituents who trust and rely on the direct assistance provided at this location and may lack close access to transportation, or wish to discuss their affairs in-person rather than over the internet,” U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (D-Va.) wrote in a May 21 letter to the SSA’s acting inspector general. “At a time when our nation’s population of seniors is growing, it would be imprudent to reduce access to services seniors need and demand.”
The SSA claims, however, that its “expiring lease” at the Rosslyn building is forcing it to close the office. That argument doesn’t hold much water with Arlington leaders, who have long lamented that Rosslyn boasts an office vacancy rate of more than 20 percent.
“Given the vacancy rate within Arlington County and the likely continued availability of existing space, office space availability is not an issue,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) wrote in a May 1 letter to the administration’s inspector general.
Beyer also noted in his letter that the county has “made an overture to assist with finding a suitable space” for a new office in Arlington — a county spokeswoman confirmed that County Manager Mark Schwartz made such an offer. An SSA spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on what discussions the agency has had, if any, with Arlington officials about staying in the area.
Kaine and Warner added in their note that county leaders have even floated the possibility that “it may be possible to extend the field office’s current lease because redevelopment of the Wilson Boulevard location is unlikely to occur for several years.” The County Board approved a full redevelopment of the block — also the location of the famed “Deep Throat” parking garage where Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward met with a source to help break open the Watergate scandal — back in 2014, but demolition work still has yet to start in the area.
Accordingly, Beyer, Kaine and Warner all demanded an investigation into how the SSA ultimately decided to close the office, and the administration’s inspector general agreed to order a review of the matter on May 21.
“The Social Security Administration should postpone the closure of its Arlington office while this review goes forward,” Beyer wrote in a statement. “It would be inappropriate for the office to be closed before the effects on the community are assessed. I thank the Acting Inspector General for undertaking this review, and look forward to its conclusions.”
The SSA office closure in Arlington is hardly an isolated decision, however. The administration has closed 125 of its roughly 1,250 offices since 2000, according to the advocacy group Social Security Works.