It’s bad enough that Congressional leaders want to cut Social Security benefits. But did you know that Congress also is keeping Social Security from spending its own money to administer benefits effectively? Earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee refused to allow the Social Security Administration (SSA) the $13.067 billion it needs–less than 1 percent of its budget–“to execute critical service delivery efforts” and ensure people have appropriate access to benefits.
Instead, the Senate Appropriations Committee cut SSA’s administrative budget by 5.5% or $600,000. According to SSA, this means a serious cut in customer service, jeopardizing and delaying people’s access to benefits. To be crystal clear, the money the Appropriations Committee is denying SSA is SSA’s money, expressly for use by SSA, not general revenue.
What exactly are the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee thinking? The Acting SSA Commissioner describes Social Security’s state of service as “fragile,” in her explanation of why it requires its full budget request. The Committee’s behavior makes no sense; it harms constituents and Social Security’s reputation.
There are 65 million people in the U.S. receiving Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), up more than 12 percent in the last five years. Yet, Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, and his members, have effectively cut SSA’s administrative budget. It is still $10.5 billion, what it was five years ago, with six million fewer enrollees.
Keep in mind that almost all Social Security applicants are older adults or people with disabilities and many have mental impairments, low literacy levels and speak English as a second language. They often need personalized assistance. And, SSA is not authorized to spend as much funds as are needed to provide it.
Kathleen Romig at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that in 2016 the typical caller to SSA must wait 15 minutes on hold and 10 percent of callers receive busy signals. Moreover, SSA has been forced to close almost 600 field and mobile offices since 2010, making it harder for people to apply for benefits. While you can apply online, staff at SSA need to do follow-up work for people applying for Social Security Disability Income and Supplemental Security Income. Adequate resources are not available.
People whose applications are denied must now wait more than a year and a half to have their appeals heard, from 360 days in 2010 to 540 days today. Moreover, short-staffed, SSA is typically delaying paying widows benefits four months. The toll on lower income individuals who depend heavily on Social Security benefits to pay their rent, utilities, and for other basic needs can be devastating.
Here’s more from Just Care:
- Social Security: What to know before claiming benefits
- Seven questions to answer before you turn 65
- Four things to consider when choosing between traditional Medicare and a Medicare Advantage plan
- Support Social Security to reduce risk of recession
- Don’t let your doctor intimidate you: A personal story
- Claiming Social Security benefits early hurts lower income people disproportionately