House Republicans have agreed on a short-term measure to avert a government shutdown. They propose a continuing resolution (CR) that would run through the end of October. The proposed CR includes an overall cut in spending of 1% for those 31 days, but fully protects defense, veterans and disaster relief funding. That means an 8% spending cut from current funding for all other agencies, including the Social Security Administration (SSA). We spoke to NCPSSM senior legislative representative, Maria Freese, about what this means for the beleaguered SSA and the millions of claimants who rely on it.
Q: What would an 8% cut in the operating budget of SSA do to the SSA? What impact would that have on customer service?
A: Of course we don’t know exactly what the impact of any cut will be on SSA, but we do know they have already requested an increase of $727 million above current funding, as a minimum, for FY 2024. Without this level of funding, they will be forced to reduce staffing and overtime, which will hurt the agency’s ability to serve the public. Without that minimum level of funding, SSA’s customers will wait significantly longer for field office services, disability decisions, and phone support. A cut in funding will only make the problem worse, especially as the agency will have little time to plan for and implement such a drastic cut.
Q: If anything, SSA Needs a funding BOOST, doesn’t it?
A: Absolutely. We still have an average of 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age every day, which means demand for services from SSA continues to increase. When combined with the impact of inflation, it’s clear the agency needs more money to operate. Not only do they need to keep up with an increasing current demand, but decades of underfunding have left the agency with significant backlogs that they need to address. About 110,000 Americans have already died over the last decade waiting for disability determinations from SSA, a problem which will only get worse if the agency continues to be underfunded.
Q: How much of a funding increase would NCPSSM like to see SSA receive?
A: At a minimum, we support the Administration’s request of $15.5 billion for FY 2024, an amount which would help the agency keep up with current demand while continuing to reduce backlogs and update its technology. This is still a billion dollars below what the agency itself believes it needs to do its job adequately, but well above any of the funding levels being considered by Congress.
Q: Also, isn’t SSA supposed to be funded mainly through payroll taxes? So why slash it? Haven’t workers already paid for these services, in effect?
A: Yes, that is one of the truly frustrating things about SSA’s funding conundrum. SSA is fully funded by workers’ payroll taxes but unfortunately, (for accounting purposes) the agency is technically ‘on budget.’ This means that although SSA operations have already been paid for by American workers with every paycheck, the agency still must compete with every other government service for funding.
Q: What does it say about House Republicans’ priorities that they want to exempt military spending from cuts but are anxious to slash domestic spending like SSA operations in exchange for keeping the government open?
A: I like to hope that they are simply unaware of the hardships that shutdowns cause to their own constituents, as some Republicans have said publicly that they don’t believe anyone would notice or care if the government closed. I believe this kind of cavalier attitude about our government demonstrates a lack of understanding and appreciation for the many services agencies like SSA provide to the average American senior.
Q: NCPSSM has previously said that a shutdown, if it happens, would negatively impact SSA services. Is that still the case?
A: Yes, though the extent of the impact will partly depend on the length of the shutdown. Most SSA employees are exempt from the furloughs required during a government shutdown because the law requires that Social Security checks continue to be paid. Any employee essential to ensuring that those benefits are paid remains on the job. But agency employees are limited in the functions they can perform during a shutdown, so some services, such as the processing of disability claims, inevitably would be impacted.