When Social Security Offices Reopen, Seniors Need Congress to Fund SSA Properly
When Social Security Offices Reopen, Seniors Need Congress to Fund SSA Properly

When Social Security Offices Reopen, Seniors Need Congress to Fund SSA Properly

Social security offices, which have been closed since the start of the pandemic, reopen on Thursday. It is a relief for seniors and people with disabilities who have not been able to obtain personal service for more than two years. But the Social Security Administration (SSA), which operates these field offices, was already there struggling to provide adequate customer serviceBefore the pandemic because it has been chronically underfunded of the U.S. Congress. This could make for a rocky reopening.

Social security creditors seek personal assistance at SSA’s field offices for a range of important services – from filing claims to obtaining copies of social security cards. They can talk face to face with an SSA employee and personally present necessary documentation. For some plaintiffs – especially seniors – there is simply no substitute for this type of service. Still SSA warns that customers “should expect long queues” and “may have to wait outside” when the offices reopen.

An SSA customer suffering from chronic pain toldPhiladelphia Inquirer, “It’s going to be hard for me … to get up and wait in line. I’ll have to sit on the sidewalk.” The Inquirer reports that although clients are able to speak with an SSA representative in person, “claims processing will be slow when it starts up again.”

SSA has for years tried to steer customers away from the field offices and towards theirs website – which is fine for victims who are computer literate and have the necessary hardware and connectivity options. But that is simply not the case for many seniors. Others are reluctant to share sensitive data like birth dates and CPR numbers online. Given the recent high-profile hacks from many of our nation’s private and public institutions, who can blame them?

Unfortunately, SSA field offices closed well before COVID – many in underserved urban areas – in an attempt to reduce costs. Why? Because from 2010, Congress chopped SSA’s operating budget in the name of fiscal tightening. Since then, the Agency’s funding has not yet been fully restored. Between 2010 and 2021, SSA’s operating budget fell 13 percent in inflation-adjusted terms. During the same period, the number of beneficiaries grew by more than 22 percent!

The budget cuts hit SSA’s customer service capacity hard. The agency was forced to shrink its workforce. Not only were offices closed or their hours shortened, plaintiffs trying to reach the agency’s toll-free number faced infinite hold times and recurring busy signals. Meanwhile, waiting times for complaints about disability benefitsrose in the air to over two years. More than 100,000 Americanswith disabilities died pending a hearing – all because the agency has been sadly underfunded.

The operation is mainly financed by Social security fund , to which Americans contribute during their working years in exchange for retirement and disability benefits. Although the SSA is not funded through general revenue like most other agencies, its budget is still subject to the congressional grant process. In other words, workers have actually paid for SSA’s operating expenses, but Congress limits the amount of money available to the agency each fiscal year.

The irony is that the SSA is one of the most cost-effective federal agencies. It uses approx 1 percent of the total turnover on the operation. (It is also one of the public’s favorite federal agencies, according to a recent examination – only next to the National Park Service.) And yet it gets caught up in the annual budget battles between legislators who advocate cost savings for social programs and those who want the agency to be properly funded for the benefit of the public.

SSA funding has increased somewhat since 2021, but not enough to compensate for more than a decade of underfunding. The omnibus spending proposal passed by Congress in March provided the SSA with $ 1 billion less than the White House requested, which in turn was less than what SSAsays it needs. The Social Security Trust Fund, which is supposed to fund SSA operations, has one $ 2.9 trillionsurplus. Congress should allow the SSA to spend a few tenths of a percent more to provide the public with a satisfactory service.

SSA has been forced to pay with insufficient funding for too long. The SSA has cut back, reduced staff and closed field offices – to the detriment of Americans who depend on social security. (To make matters worse, the agency lost some1,500 workersnationwide during the pandemic.) Many seniors and people with disabilities are no doubt happy that the field offices are reopening. After years of suffering through endless frustrations and sometimes fatal delays, they deserve a fully funded and functional social security administration.

Max Richtman is President and CEO of the nonprofit National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

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