Americans contact the Social Security Administration at the most vulnerable points in their lives – upon the death of a loved one, upon retirement, or when facing a life-changing disability. At those points, these individuals should receive compassionate, timely, and efficient service in response to their needs. After all, they have paid their Social Security taxes for years, earning the benefits they seek, and the right to high quality service when applying for those benefits. Unfortunately, after years of Congressional cuts to Social Security's administration, many individuals do not receive the service they have earned and deserve.
Administrative Budget Requests Have Been Cut for Years
Social Security's core operating budget shrank by 11 percent from 2010 to 2017 in inflation-adjusted terms. This occurred even as 10,000 baby boomers a day reach retirement age. When workloads increase and staff is reduced due to inadequate funding, service deteriorates. The media has focused on the unprecedented delays disability applicants face when waiting for a hearing on their case – the wait in August 2017 was 627 days – but service in other areas has deteriorated as well. For example:
- In 2010 callers to Social Security's toll-free 800 Number waited, on average, 3 minutes to speak to a customer service representative; in 2017 the wait was 18 minutes. In 2010 callers received a busy signal about 5 percent of the time; in 2017 that rose to 13 percent.
- Social Security's local field offices witnessed an increase of 2 million visitors from FY 2015 to FY 2016. An increase of this magnitude naturally results in service delays when staffing is not increased to deal with the increased volume of traffic. More than 16,000 visitors were forced to wait more than hour for service each day in August 2017. Again, these visitors are people with disabilities or the elderly who can ill afford to sit in a cramped waiting room for service they have earned.
- Social Security Statements, which are required by law to be issued biennially to workers have been reduced from 153 million issued in 2010 to 10 million in 2017, now issued only to workers over age 60 who do not have an online My Social Security account.
- Waiting times for decisions on Social Security applications continue to increase. Especially noteworthy: Disability applications, where it takes more than two years to get a decision from an administrative law judge. Thousands die each year while waiting for a decision on their claim.
Congress Needs to Address this Problem Now
Congress has the ability to deal with this problem, but has thus far not indicated a willingness to do so. The House-approved FY 2018 appropriations legislation would continue underfunding the agency, freezing SSA's operating funds for another year. The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed an even more painful reduction of $400 million, nearly 4 percent of the operating budget.
Let’s be realistic. Starving the Social Security Administration’s administrative funding is a backdoor attempt to dismantle Social Security by eroding the public’s confidence in the program, especially since these funds come from Social Security’s Trust Fund and not general revenues.
NATIONAL COMMITTEE POSITION
SSA’s administrative funding has been neglected for far too long. It’s time for members of Congress to adequately fund SSA so that it can perform the vital tasks for their retired, disabled and survivor constituents. During the upcoming debate on FY 2018 appropriations, the National Committee urges Senators and Representatives to vote against the Senate Appropriations Committee’s proposed $400 million cut and to increase Social Security’s operating budget so it can do its job for the American people.
Government Relations and Policy, January 2018