June 21, 2022
The Honorable Rosa DeLauro
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Chair DeLauro:
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 develop the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2023, you prioritize 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 – the National Committee hopes that the decisions you make about funding priorities are mindful of the need to safeguard our older Americans now and into the future. While Older Americans Act programs continue to be a priority for us, we wanted to take this opportunity to urge you to give special attention to the operating budget for the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Social Security represents the foundation of income security for the American people. Without a solid foundation, other programs designed to protect workers and their families from the ravages of death, disability and old age simply will not be able to adequately fulfill their missions. And the activities of the Social Security Administration are at the heart of the administration of the Social Security program. Adequate funding for SSA is vitally important to your constituents and to our millions of members and supporters across the country who either are receiving Social Security or expect to do so in the future, both to ensure that they receive the benefits they have earned and to maintain the public’s support for this essential program.
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. Your home state of Connecticut, for example, has experienced an 18 percent loss in SSA staff since 2010, while their Disability Determination Services staff has remained flat. State-specific estimates for the country can be found at: https://www.cbpp.org/research/social-security/social-security-administration-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 so far this fiscal year. Recruiting new employees is becoming increasingly challenging, and attrition rates are at all-time highs. According to SSA, attrition is nearly 7 percent to date this fiscal year, 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 now 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 solution to this growing problem is for Congress to embark on a multi-year effort to restore adequate funding levels for SSA’s operating budget. While we appreciate President Biden’s proposed funding of $14.8 billion for the Social Security Administration’s FY 2023 appropriation for administrative expenses, the budget was prepared prior to Congress’s enactment of the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations bill for FY 2022. In this legislation, Congress provided only $13.3 billion for the Agency – which was $1 billion less than SSA’s funding request – an amount far lower than proposed by both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
According to Acting Commissioner Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi, this level of funding is far less than SSA needs even to cover basic inflationary costs, let alone provide the level of service Congress and the American people expect from this critical Agency. As a result of the seriously insufficient funding enacted for FY 2022, SSA will be required to delay needed hires, including teleservice center staff, and information technology improvements, and will have less overtime available to help address a potential surge of people returning to field offices for in-person service.
For this reason, we urge you to provide $15.55 billion in funding for FY 2023, which is the amount submitted by the Agency itself 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 is unlikely 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. Fully funding the Agency’s original request will represent a major step toward restoring SSA’s ability to fulfill its mission.
Even prior to FY 2022, the Social Security Administration suffered from a serious erosion of funding, which 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.
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 $15.55 billion for the Agency’s administrative expenses in FY 2023.
In addition to the issue of adequate funding, we urge Congress to include language related to the production and mailing of hard-copy Social Security statements. SSA has consistently followed their plan to limit the distribution of statements only to individuals who are 60 or older rather than sending them to all workers 25 and older 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. According to the Congressional Justification for the President’s request for FY 2022, it would cost approximately $81 million to provide statements to all workers who are not receiving Social Security benefits. We urge you to include an earmark within SSA’s administrative budget requiring that section 1143 of the Social Security Act be fully funded, just as the House did in Report 117-96 accompanying H.R. 4502.
Regarding the adjudication of requests for hearings, we continue to be concerned about the effect of President Trump-era regulations that authorizes 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. We urge you to bar the expenditure of appropriated funds in the FY 2023 Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations bill for the purpose of using AAJs in the hearing process.
While I recognize that you have challenging choices to make within the limited resources allocated to the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services Appropriations bill, 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 (SSA) by appropriating $15.55 billion in funding for FY 2023 as requested by Acting Commissioner Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi. 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
cc: Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies