While the well-financed Wall Street-backed campaign to convince Americans that Social Security is in crisis (even though the facts prove just the opposite) has sputtered over time, that hasn’t stopped some in Congress from inflicting a death-by-a-billion-cuts budget strategy on the Social Security Administration’s administrative finances. SSA has received less than its budget request in 14 of the last 16 years. In FY 2011-2013 alone, SSA received nearly $3 billion less than it requested from Congress to do its job. A job that is increasingly challenging as the agency serves near record number of visitors as the nation’s baby boomers retire. Not surprisingly these short-sighted “serve more with less” budgets mean beneficiaries are paying the price:
“Each day, almost 163,000 people visit field offices and more than 348,000 people try to reach an SSA agent for assistance. In FY 2014 about 13% of SSA’s visitors waited over an hour for service. Despite agency online service initiatives and the reductions of public service ours, field offices in FY 2014 served 40.7 million visitors. Field office visitors waited 50% longer in FY 2014 than in FY 2012. In FY 2014, nearly 5.5 million SSA visitors waited over an hour to be served and over 2 million visitors left without service. SSA’s 800 number network had a marked deterioration in FY 2014 in answering calls to agents, demonstrated by an answer rate of about 54%. The field office answer rate was about 67%, which also represents a substantial degradation in performance over the past few years.” — Letter to Office of Management and Budget, signed by 35 Social Security advocacy organizations, November 2014
64 SSA field offices and 533 temporary mobile offices have closed, which is the largest five-year decline in the agency’s 79 year history. In testimony submitted to the Senate Aging Committee earlier this year, NCPSSM President/CEO Max Richtman urged the SSA to reject suggestions that online and self-service options should replace in-person services currently provided in field offices:
“…the National Committee believes any individual who has paid Social Security taxes has the right to face-to-face service within a reasonable distance of their home. The National Committee also is concerned that seniors and low-income individuals who are accustomed to conducting business on a face-to-face basis will suffer undue hardship when faced with the need for a benefit verification letter or SSN printout. Many in this population lack access to and are not familiar with computers and printers. I am also concerned that shifting this administrative burden to SSA call centers will only increase the current average wait time of 26 minutes.”
Social Security advocates, including NCPSSM’s Max Richtman, SSA Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin and Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) were among the attendees of a Capitol Hill conference on the challenges facing the Social Security Administration. All agreed on the need to fund SSA far beyond what Congress has approved in recent years. Results of a new national poll were also released showing the majority of Americans want to keep Social Security field offices open to serve the millions of Americans who need the one-on-one attention they provide.
It’s time to end the “starve the beast” politics promoted for decades by those opposed to programs like Social Security. Annual defunding of SSA fulfills a political goal at the expense of millions of American seniors, the disabled, survivors and their families who depend on Social Security.