* a copy of this letter was also sent to Representative Rosa DeLauro and Representative Kay Granger
September 9, 2022
The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Richard Shelby
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Chairman 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 you support President Biden’s request for additional funding for the Social Security Administration (SSA) for fiscal year (FY) 2023 in the upcoming Continuing Resolution. Members of the National Committee come from all walks of life and every political persuasion. What unites them is their passion for protectin g and strengthening Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the other programs that are so vitally important to older Americans.
We understand the difficulties all agencies face when funding remains flat from one fiscal year to the next, especially at a time of high inflation. But we firmly believe the financial pressures confronting the Social Security Administration are unique and absolutely justify the request for additional funding submitted by the Administration.
The Administration requested $14.1 billion as the Social Security Administration’s Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE) for FY 2022, but Congress only provided $13.3 billion for the Agency in the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations bill for FY 2022. This amount was not only $1 billion lower than the amount requested, it was far lower than proposed by either the House or Senate Appropriations Committees and insufficient to even cover basic inflationary costs, let alone provide the level of service Congress and the American people expect from this critical agency. In response, SSA was forced to delay needed hires, including teleservice center staff, slow information technology improvements, and severely restrict overtime hours which are needed to help address mounting backlogs and surges in demand.
For FY 2023, President Biden proposed $14.8 billion in funding for administrative expenses, which we appreciated but believe was still inadequate to fully fund the Agency’s needs as SSA had submitted a request for $15.55 billion in funding for FY 2023 to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). We firmly believe SSA is better positioned to anticipate the funding it will need to provide the level of service the American people deserve than OMB staff, though even this level would have been insufficient to fully make up for the serious and unanticipated level of underfunding confronting SSA in FY 2022. Instead of focusing on the types of investments SSA needs to make in order to modernize its systems and improve customer service, SSA has been forced to cannibalize other accounts in order to re-open its field offices safely.
We are now confronted with the specter of a Continuing Resolution, which is initially expected to fund the federal government for the next few months but could easily become the basis f or another full fiscal year of funding. Limiting the Agency to $13.3 billion in funding for another year will seriously impede SSA’s ability to fulfill its mission. This is especially frustrating when one considers that the source of funding for SSA’s operations comes from the Social Security Trust Funds themselves, not general revenue – and that contributions from American workers have built up a $2.852 trillion surplus in these accounts, in addition to about $1 trillion received in Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) contributions each year.
From 2010 to 2021, SSA’s operating budget declined by about 13 percent after inflation, while the number of beneficiaries rose by 21 percent, primarily as a result of the growth in new retirement beneficiaries as the baby boom generation reached retirement age. These budget cuts have left SSA with its lowest levels of staffing in 25 years. State-specific estimates for the country can be found at: https://www.cbpp.org/research/social-security/social-securityadministration-cuts-hurt-every-state
The results of this underfunding have been increasingly apparent and have only been exacerbated by the impacts of the pandemic. The problems with SSA’s outdated phone systems are well known to the public as callers to the Agency receive busy signals much of the time, are kept on hold for hours and, when they do manage to get through, regularly find that their calls are dropped in mid-conversation. Inadequate funding has also led to staffing shortages, with the agency losing over 7,000 full-time equivalents between 2010 and 2020 and an additional 2,900 earlier this fiscal year. Recruiting new employees is becoming increasingly challenging, and attrition rates are at all-time highs. According to SSA, attrition is approximately 7 percent, with the highest rate in SSA’s teleservice center at over 12 percent. At this pace, SSA estimates it will lose over 4,500 front-line operations employees this year.
In the State Disability Determination Services, where medical decisions are adjudicated, attrition is unprecedented, at over 25 percent. These complex jobs require about two years of training. The loss of experienced examiners significantly affects SSA’s ability to train new employees and complete program integrity workloads. In addition to implementing a hiring freeze, the budget shortage resulting from the funding levels in the FY 2022 Omnibus bill forced the Agency to reduce overtime, which helps SSA make up for a shortage of employees. The effect of reduced overtime in SSA’s Processing Centers is stark. In 2018, SSA ended the year with 3.2 million actions pending – this backlog has reached 4.5 million and is growing.
The staffing shortages have also resulted in a growing backlog of disability cases at both the initial and reconsideration level. The initial disability claims pending level has increased to almost 840,000 as of April 2022, an increase of over 200,000 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The average initial claim wait time through April 2022 is almost 177 days compared to 120 days in September 2019. It is unconscionable to expect applicants to wait six months for an initial determination of their disability claims, with those rejected waiting over a year for
their appeals to be heard. Thousands of applicants die waiting for their appeals to receive a hearing.
The Agency and its employees have done an extraordinary job of making the most effective use of the dollars they have been appropriated, however, there is only so far SSA can go without a meaningful infusion of resources. This critical lifeline for millions of Americans must not be allowed to wither on the vine. Congress must provide adequate funding for this foundation of support for workers and their families. This funding must begin with an allocation of at least $14.1 billion for the Agency’s administrative expenses in FY 2023.
While I recognize that you have challenging choices to make within the limited resources available under a Continuing Resolution, the National Committee respectfully asks you to prioritize the programs that help seniors live independent and dignified lives. Under your leadership, the National Committee hopes that you to give special attention to the operating budget for the Social Security Administration by appropriating at least $14.1 billion in funding in the Continuing Resolution for FY 2023 as requested by the President. Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to working with you to ensure sustained investment in programs and agencies crucial to seniors.
President and CEO