Social Security’s Operating Budget At-Risk for Even More Cuts

Just imagine it: you are a senior who just received a notice from the Social Security Administration that your only source of income, your meager Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, are going to be cut off next month. When you call Social Security’s 800 number to get an explanation, you get a busy signal. When you go to the local Social Security office to file an appeal of the decision, the line stretches out the door with no place for you to sit while you wait for hours to speak with someone. Your stress level rises while you face the prospect of having no income to meet your basic needs.

But this under-staffing is the alarming reality. Today, over 1 million people are waiting over 575 days on average for a hearing on their Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability claims. This is an all-time high. Most people have little to no income while waiting for a hearing, and run the risk of financial ruin and worsening health the longer they wait.

Today’s administrative troubles exist because Social Security’s operating budget has been cut by over 10 percent since 2010, while workloads have increased as the baby boomers age. In fact, Social Security has been forced to cut back on services across the board. Since 2010 Social Security has closed more than 60 field offices and 500 mobile offices.

President Obama has requested funding for 2017 that would allow Social Security to begin reducing the disability claims backlog and to reduce other agency service delays. Any further cuts will lead to even longer, more devastating waits and reduced service to the public. Yet, Congress is considering even more cuts. A funding bill in the House of Representatives would cut Social Security’s operating budget by over $250 million in 2017. The impact would be even more devastating.

Under the House bill, the Social Security Administration would need to close all its offices for two weeks, since all employees would be furloughed. And a hiring freeze would lead to longer wait times and delays in all parts of our Social Security retirement, survivors, and disability system. The Senate version of the bill provides slightly more funding, but still fails to address many critical agency resource needs.

Social Security should be there for us when we need it. As America’s most effective and efficient anti-poverty program, SSA provides tens of millions of households with monthly income. However, the agency’s excellent reputation for public service is in jeopardy. The recent years of having to do more with much less have taken a severe toll. Consistently inadequate budgets have required the closure of field offices, hiring freezes, and furloughs. Without adequate funding, Social Security will be unable to provide the level of service Americans deserve. We cannot stand by and say nothing while Congress undermines the functioning of SSA. Take Action Now! Tell your Members of Congress to fully fund the Social Security Administration.

About Kate Lang

Kate Lang is a Senior Staff Attorney on the Economic Security team and works in our Washington, DC office.