February 23, 2022

The Honorable Rosa DeLauro
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Kay Granger 
Ranking Member
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Richard Shelby
Ranking Member
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chair DeLauro, Ranking Member Granger, Chair Leahy, and Ranking Member Shelby:

On behalf of the millions of members and supporters of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, I am writing to ask that as you negotiate omnibus appropriations legislation for the rest of fiscal year (FY) 2022, you prioritize funding for vitally important programs that America’s seniors depend on to meet the needs of their daily lives.

With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day – and the number of seniors projected to double by 2050 – it’s clear that your negotiations should be mindful of the need to safeguard our older Americans now and into the future. What follows are our recommendations regarding funding for these programs for FY 2022.

Social Security Administration

The recent announcement by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that they intend to reopen field offices to the public starting in late March was welcome news to our members and to the millions of Americans who depend on in-person meetings with SSA’s experts to receive essential services.  This welcome announcement, however, also highlights the importance of ensuring that the SSA has sufficient funds available to reopen offices safely and efficiently.

Unlike virtually any other federal agency or private-sector business, SSA’s customers represent our most vulnerable citizens.  They are overwhelmingly elderly or disabled, and they typically visit field offices at times of significant stress – after a loved one has died, or when their families are confronted with a serious disability or with the approaching retirement of the family breadwinner.  They come to these offices seeking clear information and assistance regarding their earned benefits under our Social Security system.  They often are left with few alternatives to in-person meetings as a result of SSA’s requirements for original documentation for many of its services and concerns about identity theft.

Social Security field offices were once shining examples of exceptional public service.  But over the years, customer service has experienced a noticeable deterioration as the Agency has been consistently starved of funds despite growing workloads.  Since FY 2010, Social Security’s core operating budget has declined 13 percent while its workloads rose by 22 percent.  As a result – and prior to the pandemic – many field offices were shuttered, hours of operation shortened and staff reduced.  This has resulted in an inevitable decline in service.  This is especially notable in the growth of disability backlogs where delays have become legion.  Applicants have been forced to wait a year or more for hearings to determine eligibility for Social Security disability benefits, and nearly 110,000 Americans have died while waiting for a hearing.

To add insult to injury, these services are not being appropriated from the federal government’s general fund.  Rather, the monies used to provide these essential services to American workers and their families are funded through Social Security’s Trust Funds.  The services are effectively being purchased in advance by America’s workers through their FICA contributions with each and every paycheck.  Through the annual “limitation on administrative expenses” (LAE), the budget restricts how much of Social Security’s own funds SSA can spend on administration.  Over the years, the amounts allocated by Congress and the Administration have had more to do with government-wide budgetary constraints than the needs of the American people.  We believe this must stop and urge Congress to prioritize SSA’s funding needs so the Agency can begin to rebuild its operations.  Over the decades, Social Security has proven to be an exceptional steward of these contributions as SSA spends less than one penny of every dollar on administration, an amount far more efficient than private sector retirement programs or insurance companies.

The precipitous decline in customer service has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.  With field offices closed for nearly two years for everything but the most dire emergencies, Americans have found it increasingly challenging to apply for the benefits they have earned.  Within a month of the field office closures in 2020, applications by retirement-age adults, disabled adults, and parents of disabled children plummeted by 55 percent, 32 percent, and 51 percent relative to prior year numbers.  In FY 2020, 49 percent of calls to Social Security went unanswered, further hampering beneficiaries’ ability to access services.  SSA’s toll-free telephone service served as a lifeline for Americans attempting to contact the Agency during the pandemic and it will continue to be important as we address the needs of this vulnerable population in the coming years.  Yet staffing for the national toll-free telephone declined by 12 percent since 2010, even as call volume grew 6 percent.

In FY 2021, SSA’s awards of Social Security Disability Insurance benefits to disabled persons and their family members were down 25 percent relative to FY 2019.   Supplemental Security Income disability benefit awards (for blind and disabled individuals to provide them with basic income) were even lower, with a 30 percent decline.  These dramatic declines were unexpected, as historically applications for benefits tend to increase during periods when the economy constricts.  As a consequence, there is every reason to believe the field offices will face a mountain of pent-up demand upon reopening in April.  The nightmare scenario of hundreds if not thousands of elderly, frail and disabled Americans standing for hours in long lines outside field offices waiting for an available agent to access the services they have earned during their working lives is entirely predictable.  While the current push to increase online interactions with the Agency is admirable, it raises serious challenges for SSA’s primary customers – for many, conducting business online can pose an insurmountable obstacle.

This makes it absolutely critical that SSA have sufficient funds to open field offices safely, address both the anticipated increase in demand while eliminating the existing backlogs, and continue to provide services to the 10,000 baby boomers who reach age 65 every day.

The President proposed $14.2 billion for SSA’s FY 2022 appropriation for administrative funding. This was an increase of $1.3 billion — barely 10 percent – over the FY 2021 enacted level and we believe this is the absolute minimum the Agency needs to reopen offices safely and begin addressing years of underfunding.  While this represents an increase in funding, it still falls short of the Agency’s own analysis of an appropriate funding level.  The budget request as submitted to the Office of Management and Budget called for $14.678 billion in funding for FY 2022, an increase of $478 million over the level called for in the President’s budget.  These additional resources should be appropriated and used to strengthen staffing in local field offices.  Even before the pandemic, we heard repeatedly from National Committee members of the difficulties they experience in receiving services in their local offices.  Now is the time to make significant investments to improve the services these facilities provide.

In addition to the need for adequate funding levels, H. Rept. 117-96, the Report accompanying the House appropriations bill H.R. 4502, also includes a number of provisions we believe are important to facilitate the Agency’s operations.  First, H. Rept. 117-96 provides an increase of no less than $650 million specifically targeted to frontline operations in field offices, teleservice centers and program service centers.  This funding will be critical as the Agency returns to normal operations as it is simultaneously confronted with increased new demand while still facing mountains of existing backlogs.

The second important provision included in H.R. 4502 and the accompanying report is sufficient funding for the production and mailing of hard-copy Social Security statements every year as required by Section 1143 of the Social Security Act.  Annual statements help ensure accuracy by allowing workers to know what earnings are reported to SSA and to correct any errors in a timely way.  This task becomes increasingly difficult as years pass, employers change or go out of business, and the documentation to prove income is lost.  Statements also help workers plan for their retirement by providing a starting point for the income they can expect to receive, helping them plan for how much they need to save in the future.  Finally, annual statements are invaluable to inform workers of the types of benefits provided by Social Security, and to build and strengthen public confidence that the program will be there when they need it.  H. Rept. 117-69 provides $89,500,000 to fully fund section 1143 of the Social Security Act and requires the Agency to mail paper statements to all workers aged 25 and older who are not receiving Social Security benefits.

Finally, H.R. 4502 prohibits any funds to be used for the implementation of President Trump-era regulations that authorize the Commissioner of Social Security to use Administrative Appeals Judges (AAJ) to conduct hearings on appeals of denied disability claims. We are concerned that AAJs do not have the decisional independence of Administrative Law Judges, which could compromise the integrity of the appeals process, and strongly support the provision in H.R. 4502 which prohibits funding to be spent for this purpose.  In addition, we ask that any remaining regulations proposed or promulgated by the previous Administration relating to the adjudication of disability claims be carefully reviewed and that any harmful program policy initiatives be either withdrawn or revised, as appropriate.

Discretionary Programs Affecting Older Americans

The Older Americans Act (OAA) supports a range of home and community-based services, such as home delivered meals and other nutrition programs, in-home services, transportation, legal services, elder abuse prevention and caregiver support. Up until recently, however, the Act’s broad and critical mission was undermined by inadequate funding. Over the past 20 years, the OAA has lost ground due to federal funding that has not kept pace with either inflation or growth in the older population.

Annual OAA discretionary funding declined over the 10-year period from FY 2009 to FY 2019, and funding levels each year remained below the FY 2010 level when funding was at its highest level ($2.328 billion). However, for FY 2020, total OAA funding, including supplemental funding to respond to the needs of seniors during the COVID pandemic, reached its highest level ($3.220 billion) in the Act’s 55-year history. This trend continued into FY 2021 with an increase of $96 million.

The National Committee supports several of the recommendations in the President’s budget to further increase funding – by 33 percent in FY 2022 – for Older Americans Act programs, and we urge you to include his following suggested funding levels in the FY 2022 omnibus appropriations bill:

  • $1.341 billion for nutrition programs, a $390 million or 41 percent increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.
  • $550.5 million for support services, a $158 million or 40 percent increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.
  • $249.9 million for the National Family Caregiver Support Program, a $61 million or 32 percent increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.
  • $70.2 million for Native American nutrition and supportive services, a $35 million or 99 percent increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.
  • $34.9 million for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, an $11 million or 46 percent increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.
  • $14.2 million for the Lifespan Respite Program, a $7 million or 97 percent increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.

The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) assist Medicare beneficiaries with their enrollment decisions, offering local, unbiased, personalized counseling and assistance at no cost to people with Medicare and their families. SHIP counselors answer questions about benefits, coverage, and cost sharing. They can also help beneficiaries with enrolling or leaving a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO), any other Medicare health plan, or a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D). The current funding level of $52.1 million reflects less than a dollar for every person counselors continue to provide invaluable services. The National Committee urges you to fund SHIP by at least $79.5 million to ensure the program keeps pace with the growth in the older adult population and inflation over the past decade.

The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) is the only federal job training program targeted to help low-income individuals 55 years of age and older learn the skills and on-the-job experience they need to transition into unsubsidized employment. Two million people over age 55 were unemployed in January. They accounted for roughly 1 in 5 jobless Americans. SCSEP is essential in today’s period of retirement insecurity, and is particularly important for women, people with disabilities, those in rural areas, and veterans seeking employment, particularly as they struggle with long-term unemployment at greater numbers during the pandemic. We urge you to fund SCSEP at its $480.9 million authorized level.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps keep low-income seniors’ homes heated and cooled. The program could be exponentially increased without fully meeting the need; federal performance reports show current resources are serving the lowest-income, highest energy-burdened Americans. Given the scope of need – including the 29 percent jump in energy costs in 2021 – the National Committee urges you to increase LIHEAP funding to $10 billion in FY 2022.


While we recognize the difficult fiscal constraints under the fiscal 2022 “framework,” we respectfully ask you to recognize the importance of programs that improve the health and well-being of seniors and their families. Without your investment in these discretionary initiatives, the valuable services that protect older Americans against poverty, hunger, isolation, poor health, neglect, abuse, unemployment and other challenges will fail to reach the aging population in need of these services. Under your leadership, the National Committee hopes that for the balance of FY 2022, all of these programs will be funded at levels that enable them to meet a rapidly growing demand for services. Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to working with you to ensure sustained investment in programs and agencies crucial to seniors.


Max Richtman
President and CEO