Congress passed a continuing resolution Friday to keep the government funded until December 16th. It contains additional money for the beleaguered Social Security Administration, which services the 66 million Americans receiving Social Security and people applying for benefits. NCPSSM president and CEO Max Richtman issued the following statement today in response to the Congressional action:::
“Congress is handing the Social Security Administration a modest financial lifeline, but the extra money may only help the agency to tread water. The Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government temporarily funded boosts spending for the Social Security Administration (SSA), an agency that has been chronically under-funded while striving to improve customer service to the public. Under the CR, SSA will receive an additional $400 million for FY 2023. We applaud Congressional Democrats for inserting this funding increase into the bill when spending for most other agencies remains temporarily frozen.
The increased funding should help SSA cope with its long-standing customer service backlog, which was greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. Customers have been subjected to long hold times on the SSA toll-free phone line, extensive delays awaiting disability claims hearings, and – since the re-opening of field offices last summer – waiting in line at some locations for hours in the heat. With the new level of funding, those problems likely will not get worse, but they may not significantly improve.
SSA requested twice as much funding for the CR ($800 million) and Congress shouldapprove that level when an Omnibus Appropriations bill for the reminder of FY 2023 is enacted. We will work with Social Security champions in Congress and other advocacy groups to secure SSA the funding it truly needs to improve customer service. American workers whose wages finance the Social Security program expect Congress to fully fund SSA so it can properly serve the public.” – Max Richtman, President and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, 9/30/22
Last May, the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee held a hearing on customer service issues at SSA. Witness after witness (including NCPSSM President Max Richtman) testified that the agency is in dire need of additional resources in order to properly serve the public. While witnesses praised SSA employees for doing their best to provide the public with customer service during the pandemic, they painted a picture of an underfunded and overworked agency in desperate need of Congressional action.
Rebecca Vallas of the Century Foundation advocacy group told lawmakers at the hearing, “A decade-plus history of congress underfunding SSA’s already incredibly lean operating budget, worsened by the pandemic, has spurred several urgent crises in the agency’s customer service…The casualties are your constituents.”
Among the most pressing problems that have plagued SSA customer service are long hold times, disconnects, and busy signals on the agency’s toll-free phone line and excessive delays in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) hearings. (Over 100,000 claimants have died waiting for their cases to be adjudicated.). In April, SSA was able to re-open most of its field offices after being shuttered for almost two years during the COVID pandemic.
“We are doing what we can with current staff and funding. The demand for service is high; we are losing staff; and morale is low,” testified Peggy Murphy, Director of the Social Security field office in Great Falls, Montana. “SSA is at a critical juncture as we face the future.”
People who face long waits for service at the Social Security Administration’s field offices have had to contend with one more complication this summer — intense heat. “Although most SSA field offices can assist visitors, in some locations people have been standing outside in the heat for hours at a time, without the guarantee of getting their needs met,” wrote Reps. Richard Neal, D-Mass., and Kevin Brady, R-Texas, in a letter addressed to Kilolo Kijakazi, acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration. – CNBC, 8/17/22
“To avoid waiting in line, I strongly encourage people who can to use our online services at www.socialsecurity.gov, call us and schedule appointments in advance rather than walking in without an appointment,” said SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi in a statement. “Phone appointments can save you a trip to a busy office.” SSA also outlined several steps it was taking to reduce wait times at field offices.