2006 Citizen Services

Raymond Brammer, Jr.

Led effort to get Social Security benefits to Hurricane Katrina victims and restore SSA operations in Louisiana.

One of the cruelest aspects of Hurricane Katrina was that it disproportionately impacted the poor, hurting those individuals who could least afford it. For many of those low-income victims, the timing of the storm made a nightmarish situation even worse. Thousands of these victims rely on benefits from the Social Security Administration as their only source of income, and they cannot afford for their benefits to come even one day late. It turned out Katrina arrived just before “check day.” Because many Social Security recipients in the New Orleans area, especially the poor, received paper checks instead of direct deposit, a massive effort was needed to distribute paper-based benefits quickly to victims who were not only homeless but penniless. Ray Brammer was the person in charge of this effort.

As the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Area Director for Louisiana, Ray Brammer was the first SSA regional executive to deploy to Louisiana after Katrina made landfall. The agency’s offices in Louisiana that were able to open were swamped with people seeking emergency replacement checks, and Brammer was determined that SSA would do everything in its power to help these people as quickly as possible. The regular check replacement process is automated to deliver a new check by mail, but Brammer directed offices to establish a manual process and provide replacement checks immediately to SSA’s beneficiaries. To accomplish this in the areas most impacted by Katrina, Brammer brought in additional personnel on detail from other offices and even got approval for retired SSA employees to return to work.

Brammer personally oversaw the work of all of SSA’s Louisiana field offices from the Baton Rogue office, one of the most heavily impacted by this extraordinary workload. And, he didn’t just work there; he literally lived there, sleeping on the floor each night because there was no lodging available in or near Baton Rouge.

Through these efforts, more than 50,000 emergency benefit payments were issued to displaced citizens, allowing them to obtain food, clothing and shelter.

SSA staff also provided verification of thousands of Social Security numbers, allowing individuals to obtain replacement identification documents. These documents were needed by displaced citizens in order to obtain other services provided by various federal agencies.

In addition, Brammer went to great lengths to ensure the integrity of SSA records in the New Orleans offices. With an armed escort composed of SSA OIG and Louisiana State Police officers, he made three trips into New Orleans as the flood waters began to recede.  He was able to visit all six SSA offices in the city and make sure records had not been looted or destroyed. Brammer also set up temporary office sites in key locations in and around New Orleans to provide necessary assistance to those who were able to return to their homes. He also coordinated with other agencies and helped provide one-stop assistance to storm victims by allowing SSA to maintain a presence in FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers that were established across the state.

Amidst all of this work, Brammer played a key role in locating and assisting SSA employees. Through his subordinate managers and Dallas staff he was able to locate and verify the safety of every displaced employee. He made arrangements for the New Orleans employees to work in other offices close to where they had evacuated and granted extended administrative leave for those who were unable to return to work. And for those employees who wanted to permanently transfer to another SSA office, he made it happen.

Brammer continues to work on rebuilding SSA office sites as citizens repopulate New Orleans and its suburbs. In addition to reopening two of the six permanent field offices, two temporary offices have been established to allow members of the public to conduct SSA business face-to-face.

Brammer was uniquely experienced to lead SSA’s response to Hurricane Katrina. In 1995, as Deputy Assistant Regional Commissioner for Management and Budget in SSA’s Southwest Region, he was heavily involved in the SSA’s personnel and service delivery activities in the aftermath of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, where 16 SSA employees lost their lives. In 2002, in his role as Area Director, he was on-site to lead SSA’s recovery efforts after Hurricane Lili hit the central Louisiana coast.

Ray Brammer was actually planning to retire in late 2005. Fortunately for the victims of this historic storm, he was still there to help. He has committed to staying at SSA until things have settled down from Katrina. But the day when Ray Brammer starts collecting retirement checks instead of sending them is drawing closer. Hopefully he will have a long and happy retirement, which he has certainly earned.