March 19, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing on behalf of the millions of members and supporters of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare to urge you to include increased funding in your fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget to improve the level of service provided to the American public by the Social Security Administration (SSA). During the past few years we have seen the administrative resources appropriated to this agency slashed dramatically by Congress, with corresponding reductions in public service.
While recognizing the SSA as one of the federal government’s finest agencies, we are deeply concerned about the long-term effect on its ability to continue providing the quality and level of service the American public expects and needs.
As the level of the agency’s funding has declined, SSA has had to take drastic actions to reduce spending to the level Congress appropriated. As Acting-Commissioner Carolyn Colvin stated in her March 14 testimony before the House Committee on Appropriations, reductions have led to the following deterioration in service:
- Thousands of visitors to Social Security field offices have to wait hours for service, some waiting as long as 2 hours just to speak to an agency representative.
- The average wait time for field office visitors without an appointment increased by 40 percent through the beginning of 2013.
- The agency’s 800 number average busy rate has more than tripled since 2010, rising from 4.6 percent to over 15 percent this year.
- SSA has consolidated 41 field offices and closed 490 contact stations since Fiscal Year 2010, undermining a vital part of the fabric of civic life in countless communities.
- Those offices that remain have seen their hours of operation cut back drastically. Offices that once were open through 4 p.m. now close at 3 p.m., and all offices now close their doors to the public at 12 noon on Wednesdays.
- The agency has discontinued the statutorily-required practice of sending working Americans an annual paper statement providing them with updated information about their rights under Social Security and the amount of earnings most-recently reported on their behalf by their employers.
The American public is being harmed by these reductions in the agency’s budget, and the problem will only get worse. In her recent testimony, the Acting Commissioner projected that waiting times for appointments with agency staff will continue to rise, as will the length of time required to adjudicate claims for benefits. Backlogs of disability initial applications are projected to increase by over 140,000, while the waiting time for decisions for both initial claims and hearings decisions will increase substantially.
Driving this deterioration are cuts in the agency’s staffing levels. SSA has already absorbed substantial staffing losses in recent years. The sequester that went into effect on March 1 has the potential to lead to the loss of as many as 5,000 additional full-time employees in 2013. We also understand the sequester might also lead to the dismissal of about 1,500 part-time employees.
Unfortunately, these cuts couldn’t come at a worse time. The agency is facing massive increases in its workload as more and more of the post-World War II baby boom retire. Estimates are that as many as 10,000 baby boomers are applying for benefits each day. In addition, the agency continues to perform its task of administering the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which serves some of the most vulnerable and needy of America’s elders. It is a testimony to the skill and devotion of SSA’s remaining employees that the agency continues to perform its mission, but we fear that the point may soon be reached where service reductions erode jeopardizing the safety and welfare of beneficiaries.
We know that the Congress has for the last several years appropriated less for the SSA than your administration has proposed. Still, we urge you to keep the critical needs of this vitally important agency in mind as you finalize your budget request for FY 2014.
With Warm Regards,
President and CEO