A New Commissioner and Boosted Budget Would Go a Long Way at SSA
National Committee president Max Richtman expressed deep concern today about the lack of an appointed leader at the Social Security Administration (SSA) — and inadequate funding for the agency. Appearing before the House Social Security subcommittee, Richtman said that SSA “needs strong leadership” to achieve its mission, and that a new Commissioner should be nominated and confirmed. However, Richtman testified, a new Commissioner will not be able “to deal with the agency’s significant challenges” without sufficient funding.
“Unfortunately, what we have seen in recent years is a steady decline in funding for the agency at exactly the same time that its workload has soared.” – Max Richtman, National Committee president, 3/7/18
SSA, which serves 67 million Americans receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), has been led by a series of acting directors for the past five years. The Republican-led Senate refused to confirm President Obama’s nominee, Carolyn Colvin, who departed as acting Commissioner after the Trump administration took office. President Trump has yet to nominate a Commissioner (one of the hundreds of crucial federal appointments he has failed to make), leaving a new acting chief, Nancy Berryhill, to lead the beleaguered agency.
“The Trump administration demonstrates its lack of concern for the millions of seniors and disabled collecting Social Security by leaving the agency that administers this program without a confirmed Commissioner.” – Max Richtman, 3/7/18
Meanwhile, SSA has been hobbled by draconian cuts to its operating budget for the past seven years. In fact, Congress has slashed SSA’s budget by 11% (adjusted for inflation) since 2010, notwithstanding the 10,000 Baby Boomers who turn 65 every single day. As Richtman testified, funding cuts have caused needless headaches and delays for beneficiaries.
“SSA has already made cuts in customer service to stay within the confines of these extremely tight budgets, forcing it to close field offices, shorten office hours and shrink staff. While SSA has increased automation and reduced the number of Social Security statements it provides, these efficiencies cannot compensate for the fact that SSA serves an additional one million beneficiaries each year.” – Max Richtman, 3/7/18
These cutbacks take a real human toll. Seniors have to wait on hold for an average eighteen minutes on SSA’s toll-free phone line, if they don’t get a busy signal. Many hang up – and have to call back several times to get a human being on the phone. Elderly beneficiaries encounter long lines, often with no place to sit, at the diminishing number of SSA field offices around the country. The average wait time for a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) hearing has soared to over 600 days. Shockingly, an estimated 10,000 disabled claimants died in FY 2017 awaiting hearings.
Amid this unnecessary delay and suffering, President Trump’s 2019 budget calls for nearly $90 million in additional cuts to the Social Security Administration budget – an effective reduction of $450 million when factoring in SSA’s inflationary costs. This kind of cut would force the agency to freeze hiring, furlough employees, shutter additional field offices, or further restrict field office hours – leading to even longer wait times.
Richtman called on Congressional appropriators to use funds freed up in the recent bipartisan budget deal to boost SSA funding. The National Committee would like to see an appropriation of at least $560 million over the FY 2017 level of $12.482 billion. This increase would help restore cuts made since 2010 and cover inflationary increases in operating costs. Richtman says a similar boost should be included in the FY 2019 appropriations bill, so that when a leader is appointed and confirmed, he or she will have adequate resources to turn the agency around.
“We want that confirmed Commissioner to have the all the resources he or she needs to conquer the customer service issues currently plaguing SSA.” – Max Richtman, 3/7/18