For most people Social Security cuts are something to be feared in the future, but for one group of people cuts in Social Security are already a real and present danger: the employees of the Social Security Administration. And these Social Security cuts are having a harmful effect today on beneficiaries and would-be beneficiaries.
Cuts in the agency’s fiscal year 2011 budget resulted in the loss of 3,500 state and federal employee jobs and cutbacks on overtime. As a result, 300 contact stations have been closed, eliminating in-person services in many rural and remote sites. Other offices began closing early each business day.
The SSA has also suspended mailing the Social Security statements indefinitely without advance notice to the public, eliminating an important link between young workers and the benefits they will receive when they retire.
To highlight these issues Social Security workers held informational pickets at Social Security offices across the country today, educating the public and legislators on the devastating impact of the fiscal 2011 budget cuts. Retirees and SSA employees in 96 cities have held informational pickets outside Social Security offices to draw attention to the devastating effects the cuts would have on services.
As things now stand fiscal year 2012, which began October 1, could be worse than fiscal year 2011. SSA faces a further budget cut of $800 million, even as the agency faces rising rents and health care costs. The SSA could also lose another 4,400 employees, for a total reduction of 7,900 employees in two years. This would result in even slower processing of Social Security disability claims. Agency staff would complete 2.8 million disability claims, nearly 400,000 fewer than in 2011, with pending levels rising from 845,000 to about 1.2 million and processing time exceeding 4 months. And all of this when there will be 10,000 new retirees claiming benefits each day for the next 20 years.
Some conservative members of Congress want across-the-board cuts from the fiscal 2011 level, which would be extremely detrimental. Across the board cuts, such as the 5% discussed by conservative members, would result in 24 furlough days for every SSA and Disability Determination Service (DDS) employee, and a loss of service to SSA beneficiaries. Each furlough day could result in approximately 19,000 retirement claims, 11,000 initial disability claims, and 3,000 hearings that employees would not be able to complete.
One member of Congress who has spoke out against the FY11 budget cuts to Social Security is Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. Becerra has demanded a halt to deep budget cuts to the SSA passed by the House of Representatives on February 19. “Social Security did not contribute a single penny to our country’s current fiscal mess yet it’s being thrown on the chopping block to reduce the federal deficit,” said Representative Becerra to Strengthen Social Security. Becerra, who is the Ranking Member on the House Social Security Subcommittee, also said “It is time for all Americans to stand up and strengthen this program, not undermine it.”
Barbara Kennelly, President & CEO, of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare told Strengthen Social Security, “Most importantly, you need to understand these impacts will not be short-term. The backlogs that will result from starving the agency of this crucial funding could take years to clear out, especially if next year’s funding is also below what SSA needs.”
Witold Skwierczynski, Social Security Administration Union Representative for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents Social Security employees in over 1,300 field offices nationwide had some words about the cuts which were reported by Strenghten Social Security. “It’s clear that the Republican agenda is to shrink Social Security and other essential services to the point where they can destroy them or privatize them. We can’t let them destroy the fabric of American life.”
Now with a congressional “supercommittee” less than a month away from making its recommendation on how to reduce the federal deficit, the fight for preserving Social Security and its benefits has never been more critical.