From the category archives: Retirement
Congress has cut the Social Security Administration’s core operating budget by 10 percent since 2010, after adjusting for inflation. Incredibly, this is happening at the same time a record number of Americans retire each year. It’s not like the baby boom generation is a surprise. Our nation built extra schools when they were young and housing as they reached adulthood; however, today’s Congress has chosen to ignore the fiscal realities of their retirement.
A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities details the dramatic impact Congress’ SSA budget cuts have on service nationwide:
- SSA’s staff has shrunk 6 percent nationwide since 2010. Five states — Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and West Virginia — have lost more than 15 percent of their staff since 2010.
- Disability Determination Service (DDS) staff, who decide whether applicants’ disabilities are severe enough to qualify for Disability Insurance (DI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) has shrunk 14 percent nationwide since 2010. Seven states — Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas — have lost over 20 percent of their DDS staff.
- Staff shortages have contributed to a record-high disability hearing backlog of over 1 million applicants.
- SSA has been forced to close 64 field offices since 2010, at least one in nearly every state.
Added to this list, according to a recent audit of the SSA, are reduced hours of service at the remaining offices, the limited mailing of the annual earnings statement, increased wait times, crowded lobbies and limited appointment availability.
As we reported last month:
Unfortunately, this budget slashing effort is nothing new. “Starve the beast” and shrinking government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub" are long-held goals for Congressional conservatives. Today’s budget cutters are continuing that decades-long campaign to diminish successful government programs which, since the vast majority of the American public of both parties supports them, can’t be killed outright.
“Cutting staff when SSA is processing historically high claims is irresponsible and a sign that the Republicans who voted for this cut are not interested in providing tax payers with good service regarding SSA,” said Witold Skwierczynski, president of the American Federation of Government Employees SSA Council. “Instead they appear to be creating a scenario that insures the collapse of the program and will enhance the push to privatize it. If the public loses trust and faith that the federal government can administer SSA, they will look to privatization proposals as an alternative.”...Washington Post, August 9, 2016
We recommend you read the full CBPP report here to see what’s happening in your state and nationwide.
As we first reported last week, new federal online security rules have led the Social Security Administration to require all new and current account holders to SSA’s online portal, my Social Security, to have a text-enabled cell phone to access their account online.
Since only a quarter (27%) of adults ages 65 and older own smartphones this new rule is baffling. NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, has urged Social Security’s Acting Commission, Carolyn Colvin, to change the new requirement:
We are concerned that the new authentication requirements will mean that millions of Americans will find themselves cut off from this convenient avenue of service delivery. That’s why we urge you to move quickly to protect seniors by expanding your authentication procedures to include options that can be used by those who do not have text-capable cell phones. One option would be to send an authentication code to mySocialSecurity account holders via email. Such an expansion would go a long way in ensuring that seniors will continue to be able to access their accounts.
We understand the dilemma SSA confronts in making individuals’ personally-identifiable information available to them through an online service portal such as mySocialSecurity.
“Too little security can compromise the privacy of millions of Americans. Authentication procedures that are overly-rigorous or that offer too few options can close off an important avenue of service delivery and lead to increased phone and walk-in traffic in local Social Security offices. We urge you to review the new authentication procedures with the goal of striking the right balance between access and security. Establishing an authentication option based on email or a person’s landline telephone would significantly increase the number of account holders who would continue to have access to the services that mySocialSecurity so admirably provides.”
You can read our entire letter here.
All new and current account holders to Social Security’s online portal, my Social Security, will now be required to have a text-enabled cell phone to access their account online. The Social Security Administration says:
“People will not be able to access their personal my Social Security account if they do not have a cell phone or do not wish to provide the cell phone number. We understand the inconvenience the text message solution may cause for some of our customers. We recognize that not every my Social Security account holder may have a cell phone, have consistent cell service in a rural area, or be able to receive a text message.”
In fact, a Pew Research Center report shows a small minority of adults ages 65 and older own smartphones.
“Overall, older Americans are less likely to be online, have broadband at home or own a mobile device. The same applies to smartphones: Only a quarter (27%) of adults ages 65 and older own them.”
Leading many to wonder:
“Certainly, cybersecurity is important and more so for Social Security numbers that can be used for identity theft. But there MUST be a better way than locking out the majority of people the agency exists to serve.”...Time Goes By blog
This change was prompted by a new executive order requiring all federal agencies that provide online access to consumers’ personal information to use something called multi-factor authentication; this means that to login to a site, account holders need to enter more than one credential — in this case a username/password and a text code — in order to verify their identity. The new system has already encountered snags. Verizon customers complained that they could not get the cellphone security code. The SSA now says it has fixed the problem; however,
“Due to high volume of traffic to our website, you may experience problems receiving your security code via text message or entering the security code you receive. The problem preventing all Verizon wireless customers from receiving the cell phone security code has been fixed. Please check back in a few days.”
SSA’s use of technology to reach a growing number of retirees, particularly baby boomers who have been increasing their online/cell usage, makes sense. However, the agency’s backup for those beneficiaries who can’t access their online accounts without a cell phone are its call centers, which Congress continues to underfund:
“When the teleservice centers are adequately funded and staffed, SSA’s 800 number performs well. However, starting in 2011, budget cuts forced SSA to freeze hiring, and the teleservice centers lost many agents through attrition. In just three years, SSA lost more than 15 percent of its 800 number staff. Wait times and busy rates spiked. In 2014, wait times peaked at over 22 minutes and busy rates at 13 percent. After a small funding increase in 2014 enabled SSA to replace some of the agents lost during the hiring freeze, service began to rebound — though it remains well below previous levels.”...Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Surely, there must be a better way to improve security and provide convenient access to online Social Security accounts without shifting so many seniors without cell phones back to currently underfunded teleservice centers and district offices which Congress, so far, seems unwilling to fund at levels needed to serve the retiring baby boom generation.
Social Security’s economic contributions to communities, counties, and states continue to be misunderstood and often ignored in Washington’s fiscal debates. A new online report unveiled by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation provides a detailed look at the significant economic impact generated by Social Security benefits. Social Security Spotlight delivers data on beneficiaries by state, county, Congressional district, race/ethnicity, age and gender. Also available are the Economic Stimulus Impact for each state, and the Regional Support Index (RSI) which illustrates the level of support that Social Security provides to all residents of a given state or county. This comprehensive data details what America’s retirees, people with disabilities, survivors and their families know first-hand -- Social Security plays a vital economic role for families, communities and businesses throughout America.
In 2014 alone, Social Security delivered a $1.6 trillion fiscal boost nationwide as benefits were spent and cycled through the economy. The report’s impact estimates are adjusted for taxes and the composition of state economies, which affect how benefits are multiplied and generate additional economic activity. For example in 2014, California residents received $80.4 billion in benefits, which added $165.9 billion to the state economy. At the other extreme, District of Columbia residents received $1.1 billion in benefits, which generated $1.6 billion in economic activity. The Regional Support Index (RSI), shows that between 2008 and 2013, Social Security also played a growing economic role in the vast majority (nearly 94%) of counties’ throughout the nation. In fact, 34 states showed a high/medium RSI ranking, demonstrating how important Social Security’s stimulus and stabilization effects are to states large or small, and rural and urban residents.
Social Security Spotlight can be especially helpful during the 2016 election cycle for voters, journalists, policy makers and campaign staff as the future of Social Security is debated. There have been numerous policy proposals that could diminish the earned benefits in Social Security triggering financial losses not only for American workers, retirees, the disabled, and their families but also their communities, counties and states. Every Congressional and Presidential candidate will be encouraged to take a hard look at the economic impact numbers. Voters should also ask candidates and incumbents, “Can our community afford the economic hit which would come by cutting benefits?”
Here’s a look at some of the information available for each state. This example highlights Florida:
|Total # Social Security beneficiaries:
||4.2 million residents receive $62 billion in benefits. Sumter County receives the highest per capita Social Security income, Lafayette with the lowest.
|Economic Impact Dollars:
|Regional Support Index:
||In 26 Florida Counties, 25% or more of the population receives Social Security.
In 32 Florida Counties, Social Security is 10% or more of their citizens’ income.
Since 2008, Social Security’s economic impact has increased in every Florida County.
||4.2 million Florida beneficiaries 75.5% White, 13.2% Hispanic, 1.4% Asian, 8.9% African American, 6.1% children
The Social Security Spotlight project was funded by a grant from the Retirement Research Foundation. The project has been guided by the Task Force on the Future of America’s Health and Retirement Security. Research was conducted by: Peter S. Arno, PhD, Senior Fellow and Director of Health Policy Research at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare Foundation board member, and Andrew R. Maroko, PhD, Assistant Professor, City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.
The Democratic Platform released today clearly shows that the differences between how the Democratic and Republican parties will approach the future of Social Security couldn’t be starker. The GOP platform promises to consider all benefit cut options, refuses to lift the payroll tax cap and suggests sending Americans’ earned benefits to Wall Street through privatization. The Democratic Party platform, on the other hand, offers the strongest statement on strengthening Social Security seen in decades. By pledging to fight efforts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, supporting expansion of the program, lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula for seniors, the Democrats have tackled head-on the critical challenges facing millions of average Americans.
“For too long, many in Washington have ignored the retirement crisis facing Americans nationwide. The Democratic Party’s platform acknowledges what average Americans and their families understand first-hand – Social Security is an economic lifeline to millions which should be improved. Boosting Social Security’s benefits to provide economic security while also extending the program’s solvency can be done at the same time. The Democrats get that.
The National Committee proudly worked closely with the Democratic Platform Committee and DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to ensure efforts to improve the current cost of living allowance (COLA) formula are investigated. The current formula isn’t measuring seniors’ expenses properly and they’ve seen no increase for too many years, while their expenses (especially health costs) continue to grow. We need a COLA for the elderly and are happy to see Democrats address that reality in this 2016 platform.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO and Democratic Platform Committee Member
It’s also very telling that while the GOP buried their cuts and privatization plans for Social Security under the Platform’s Government Reform heading, the Democrats addressed Social Security, as they should, as part of their plan to restore economic security for average Americans. That’s been Social Security’s fundamental role for more than 80 years -- providing an economic lifeline impacting the lives of virtually every American family.
A new National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation report also released today, called Social Security Spotlight, illustrates very clearly the huge economic impact Social Security benefits have in every state and county throughout the nation. This research can be especially helpful during the 2016 election cycle for voters, journalists, policy makers and campaign staff as the future of Social Security is debated.
Have a Social Security or Medicare question?