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Congress keeps Social Security from spending its own money to administer benefits effectively

Written by Diane Archer

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.

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10 Comments

  • These problems with service are exactly the reason the Republicans are denying Social Security’s funding requests. Once there are enough people having trouble getting their Social Security issues resolved, it can be declared totally inefficient and privatized, just as they are trying to do to the Postal Service.

  • All income should be subject to the FICA tax. That should include the income of the earned income tax credit. The EITC was created to supplement wage income for lower wage earners. The full FICA tax should also be applied here.

  • …Social Security needs to become a fully protected trust, out of the reach of heartless politicians who want to cripple. dismantle or privatise it and irresponsible ones who “borrow” against it for unrelated uses, treating it like some sort of governmental slush fund. There are trillions tied up in outstanding “IOUs” that date back to the Reagan administration which need to be called in.

    As to these do nothing (except to hurt the people) Republicans in Congress, it is no skin off of their noses. They have a generous pension they can collect (which includes health coverage) even if voters give them the boot which is on the taxpayers’ dime. Maybe we should look at reducing their benefits as most of them are already much more well off than most of the rest of this nation is. They are supposed to be public servants, yet they treat the public as their servants. We need to hold them accountable to their responsibilities which are to the people, not the wealthy and corporate interests as it has become.

    I hear many saying they just want all of us to die off, I am almost coming around to believe this myself. If true, it would amount to to little more than legislated genocide which puts them in the ranks with the worst despots of history.

    • Your posting is too true. The GOP would like all the old, disabled & poor, who are their FELLOW CITIZENS, to just die off as soon as possible. That would leave more $$ from the US budget for the 1%!!

  • The money going into Social Security needs to be protected from Congress and political influences. They cannot be trusted to properly administer Social Security and are bent on destroying and privatizing it. We need to raise the Cap on income and increase benefits. Congress gives itself a raise every year, but Social Security income goes down with no, or inadequate, COLA .

    • Also, when SS recipients have gotten a c.o.l. increase in the past, the premium on Medicare parts A&B always went up at the same time, offsetting the increase. :( I have been a proud patriot all my life and even during a parade, I stand for the National Anthem! Yes, I am seated because of a back unjury, but I rise from my chair nevertheless, and I don’t hesitate to shake the hand of a veteran when one crosses my path. :)

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