U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
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 you support H.R. 4502, legislation which includes fiscal year (FY) 2022 funding for vitally important programs that America’s seniors depend on to meet the needs of their daily lives. Members of the National Committee come from all walks of life and every political persuasion. What unites them is their passion for protecting and strengthening Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the other programs that are so vitally important to older Americans.
With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day – and the number of seniors projected to double by 2050 – it’s clear that this budget is mindful of the need to safeguard our older Americans now and into the future. What follows are the programs included in H.R. 4502 that we support on behalf of America’s seniors.
The President proposed $14.2 billion for SSA’s FY 2022 appropriation for administrative funding. This is an increase of $1.3 billion — nearly 10 percent – over the FY 2021 enacted level and is a badly needed increase to address years of underfunding. It represents a first step in stabilizing SSA’s continued customer service deterioration, which since FY 2010 saw Social Security’s core operating budget decline 13 percent while its workloads rose by 22 percent. The effects of the COVID pandemic on SSA’s service delivery have magnified the effects of this long-standing disinvestment of Social Security’s core public services.
H.R. 4502 provides $14.1 billion to fund the Social Security Administration in FY 2022, a $1.1 billion increase above the FY 2021 enacted level. This funding would help eliminate the backlogs that have developed during the pandemic in both the Disability Determination Services and the Offices of Hearings Operations and is clearly necessary to expedite the processing of the current backlog. It also addresses what is believed to be a significant pent-up demand for disability claims filing that developed during the COVID pandemic.
H.R. 4502 provides funding to improve the level of service provided by SSA’s toll-free telephone service, where underfunding has led to a decline in service delivery. Since 2010, SSA’s national toll-free telephone service staff shrank by 12 percent, even as call volume grew 6 percent. The results were more busy signals, more hang-ups, longer wait times and fewer calls handled. H.R. 4502 provides additional resources that will enable SSA to significantly improve the level of telephone service it provides, and we thank the House Appropriations Committee for providing funds to strengthen the adequacy of this vital service. As a result of the closure of SSA field offices during the pandemic, the 800 number was the lifeline that remained available to those seeking SSA’s services.
H.Rept. 117-96, the Report accompanying H.R. 4502, also includes two provisions lacking in the Administration’s budget request that we strongly support. First, the President’s FY 2022 budget provides very little in terms of additional funding for SSA’s network of 1,200 local field offices. While the budget supports some increases in overtime hours for field offices, it otherwise provides no additional funding for increases in field office staffing. We found this astonishing, given that the additional Disability Insurance workloads projected for the DDSs and the hearing offices must, of necessity, originate in the local field offices. H.Rept. 117-96 provides an increase of no less than $650 million to support frontline operations in field offices, teleservice centers and program service centers. This funding will be critical as the Agency returns to normal operations.
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 require the Agency to mail paper statements to all workers aged 25 and older who are not receiving Social Security benefits.
Additionally, 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.
Finally, we note that the President’s FY 2022 budget includes an estimate that the costs associated with the establishment of a nationwide system of paid family and sick leave will total $225 billion over 10 years, and Commissioner Saul’s request to OMB identifies the first-year cost of the program to SSA at $750 million. While the National Committee supports proposals to provide paid family leave, we strongly believe the Department of the Treasury should administer the program and are concerned about the impact on SSA of administering such a program. If the new program is ultimately administered through SSA, it is critical that any new responsibilities do not come at the cost of completing the Agency’s core mission.
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 has been 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 increased funding levels for Older Americans Act programs in H.R. 4502, including:
- $1.387 billion for nutrition programs, a $336 million or 41 percent increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.
- $550.5 million for support services, a $158 million increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.
- $249.9 million for the National Family Caregiver Support Program, a $61 million increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.
- $70.2 million for Native American nutrition and supportive services, a $35 million increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.
- $34.9 million for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, an $11 million increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.
- $14.2 million for the Lifespan Respite Program, a $7 million 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, the National Committee urges you to increase LIHEAP funding to $10 billion in FY 2022.
While we recognize the difficult fiscal constraints under which the government is operating, we strongly support funding which recognizes 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. H.R. 4502 provides funding levels that will enable programs important to seniors to meet a rapidly growing demand for services.
We strongly urge you to support H.R. 4502, and we look forward to working with you to ensure sustained investment in programs and agencies crucial to seniors.
President and CEO