BARSTOW • Rep. Paul Cook is among a growing contingent of officials and locals opposing a plan to close the Barstow Social Security office and consolidate it with the Victorville office.
Cook, R-Apple Valley, wrote a letter opposing the move last month to Carolyn Colvin, the acting commissioner of Social Security for the Social Security Administration. The Congressman spoke to the Desert Dispatch on Thursday about his attempts to block a plan to shutter the Barstow office by March 29.
"I owe it to my constituents and those who rely on Social Security to fight for them," Cook said when asked why he wrote the letter. "I owe it to them to make sure that they're able to get the benefits they've spent a lifetime earning, and closing this office is a huge disservice to them."
In a letter received by Barstow officials Jan. 17, the Regional Social Security office in San Francisco cites administrative budget cuts over the past three years as the reason "we have had to consolidate dozens of field offices, stop visiting more than 1,500 remote service sites nationwide, and reduce public hours in our field offices."
The planned consolidation will force Barstow residents to make a nearly 65-mile round trip to Victorville if they need to visit a Social Security office. Cook said that will cause problems for both cities.
"The closure will create an undue hardship on recipients from the Barstow area by forcing them to use the Victorville office 32 miles away, which will only cause more traffic at the Victorville location," Cook said. "This will force seniors, many of whom no longer drive, to travel 64 miles roundtrip, and bus service between these two cities is limited and much more time consuming."
The Barstow City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday opposing the closure.
"Access (for the elderly) is hard," Mayor Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre said. "Government is going to do what it's going to do, but I think it's important to try to persuade them. It makes no sense. In an area like Los Angeles they have so many (offices) that are open. And they've got better access because they're more closely knitted together. And I'm wondering if the people who make those decisions really know what the distance is between Barstow and Victorville."
With the resolution passed, the city must now hope that something persuades the Social Security Administration to change the plan.
"You have to fight the bureaucracy, and that's what I'm doing," Cook said. "I've made my case to the Social Security Administration with a letter and multiple calls, and I've received a response from Grace Kim, the regional commissioner for the area. I'm not satisfied with the response, because they haven't proven to me that they were fair and transparent in choosing to close Barstow instead of another office elsewhere."
"If you're going to close an office that helps hundreds if not thousands of my constituents, the process can't be shrouded in secrecy," Cook added. "We need to force the SSA to employ verifiable standards in determining the viability of an office location. My next step is to meet with SSA officials face to face and make them answer some tough questions."