July 9, 2021

The Honorable Rosa DeLauro
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Tom Cole
Ranking Member
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chair DeLauro and Ranking Member Cole:

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 legislation that funds the federal government for 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. 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.
The FY 2022 budget recommendations submitted by President Biden to Congress on May 28, 2021 affirm his commitment to America’s seniors in major ways – from improved customer service for Social Security beneficiaries to prescription drug pricing reform to expanded home and community-based services (HCBS). 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 our recommendations regarding funding for these programs for FY 2022.

Social Security
The President proposes $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.
The National Committee applauds the Administration’s budget proposal and urges you to include it in the FY 2022 Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. The Administration provides additional funding to 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. The President’s budget provides the additional funding to deal with these problems, and we applaud the Administration for its initiative in this area.

We support the Administration’s proposal to provide additional funding to improve the level of service provided by SSA’s toll-free telephone service. Here too, 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. The President’s budget provides additional resources that will enable SSA to significantly improve the level of telephone service it provides, and we thank the Administration for proposing 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.

While we generally support the Administration’s budget request, we note two concerns. 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 find 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. Flat level funding seems to us to be an inadequate response.

Accordingly, we urge you to carefully consider Commissioner Andrew Saul’s budget request as submitted to the Office of Management and Budget. In it, he called for a budget of $14.678 billion, 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.

President Biden’s budget proposal funds the production and mailing of only 15 million hard-copy Social Security statements. This proposal is part of SSA’s overall 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, it would cost $81 million in FY 2022 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.

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 2022 Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations bill for the purpose of using AAJs in the hearing process.
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 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 Labor, HHS and Education 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, the National Committee urges you to increase LIHEAP funding to $10 billion in FY 2022.

While we recognize the difficult fiscal constraints under which you are operating, 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 in 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