May 30, 2022
The Honorable Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Biden,
On behalf of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare’s millions of members and supporters, I join with Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative John Larson in urging you to keep the promises you have made over the years to America’s seniors by establishing a “Beneficiary Advocate” position within the Social Security Administration (SSA). The National Committee is a grassroots advocacy and educational organization dedicated to preserving and strengthening our Nation’s earned benefit programs, Social Security and Medicare, as well as a variety of safety net programs for seniors. 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 these programs that are so vitally important to older Americans, people with disabilities and survivors.
We recognize that every SSA employee is inherently an advocate for beneficiaries, but we believe that an office of “Beneficiary Advocate” would greatly assist beneficiaries by providing a voice within the agency representing beneficiaries, and by elevating and highlighting systemic problems interfering with access to benefits and services, similar to the work that has been superbly provided by Taxpayer Advocate’s office for the Internal Revenue Service.
As you well know, Mr. President, the Social Security Administration has been severely underfunded for over a decade. While you proposed funding of $14.2 billion for the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) FY 2022 appropriation for administrative expenses, Congress ultimately provided only $13.3 billion in the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations bill for FY 2022 – 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.
Even if an adequate level of funding is restored in FY 2023, it will take years for the Agency to recover – particularly considering the technical nature of much of its employees’ work. It takes years to fully train many of SSA’s frontline employee positions, and the Agency’s current high attrition rate will pose continuing challenges to SSA’s ability to advance its mission, let alone explore systemic issues troubling the Agency or focusing on improving the delivery of customer service. SSA’s constrained funding has left it barely able to tread water, let alone provide the forward-looking experience your Administration has promoted across the government.
Your Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/12/13/executive-order-on-transforming-federal-customer-experience-and-service-delivery-to-rebuild-trust-in-government/ issued on December 13, 2021, states in part:
“Agencies should continually improve their understanding of their customers, reduce administrative hurdles and paperwork burdens to minimize “time taxes,” enhance transparency, create greater efficiencies across Government, and redesign compliance-oriented processes to improve customer experience and more directly meet the needs of the people of the United States. Consistent with the purpose described in section 1 of this order, agencies’ efforts to improve customer experience should include systematically identifying and resolving the root causes of customer experience challenges, regardless of whether the source of such challenges is statutory, regulatory, budgetary, technological, or process-based. Furthermore, to engender public trust, agencies must ensure that their efforts appropriately maintain or enhance protections afforded under law and policy, including those related to civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, confidentiality, and information security.”
This describes an extremely worthy goal, but it is one which the Social Security Administration is woefully ill-prepared to execute. The Agency is currently at its lowest staffing level in 25 years, processing backlogs are growing, and it takes almost six months for applicants to receive a response to an initial disability claim. With SSA’s workforce rightfully focused on addressing these immediate crises, there is little opportunity to work on improving “big picture” issues such as those outlined in your Executive Order. The Agency desperately needs an office dedicated to “identifying and resolving the root causes of customer experience challenges” that can not only identify the problems and their solutions but also pursue the solutions no matter their origins – without the distractions of meeting day-to-day customer service needs. Unless impediments such as overburdensome statutory or regulatory requirements, administrative burdens and technological issues are identified and resolved, SSA will continue to face customer service challenges even if additional budgetary resources are provided.
You have rightly called Social Security a “Sacred Trust” between the federal government and the people, promising financial security in return for their contributions to the program in each and every paycheck. A critical component of that promise is to ensure that retirees, people with severe disabilities, and survivors of deceased workers receive the benefits they have earned.
When individuals cannot access SSA to obtain those benefits, the government has failed to keep its promise. The position of “Beneficiary Advocate” would help ensure that the “sacred trust” between the federal government and its people is upheld.
For these reasons, we urge you to establish an office of “Beneficiary Advocate” within SSA designed to address the systemic challenges of the Agency and to provide an independent voice for beneficiaries to Congress and to the American people.
President and CEO