How cuts to Social Security Administration will hurt you

October 14, 2011

Undated handout photo. REUTERS/ICE/Handout  “Starving the beast” is a favorite conservative strategy for forcing cuts in federal spending. The idea is to deprive the government of revenue in order to force spending cuts – and resistance to new taxes is a central feature of the current Super Committee deliberations in Washington.

Advocates for older Americans are watching closely to see how the committee’s work might lead to retirement benefit cuts via a higher Social Security retirement age, smaller cost-of-living adjustments or higher Medicare eligibility ages. Meanwhile, a separate starve-the-beast exercise goes mostly unnoticed: a big squeeze on the administrative budget of the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The SSA is funded through the same Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax that pays benefits, so it doesn’t compete for general revenue to meet its costs. But Congressional appropriators — who oversee its budget — have been squeezing the agency anyway.

In fiscal 2011, Congress provided the SSA with about $1 billion less than requested by President Obama. Those cuts forced the agency to make cuts that beneficiaries have noticed. It suspended mailing of the annual statement of benefits, and it shelved plans to open eight new hearing offices to handle the backlog of disability claims, which has soared during the recession.

SSA had planned to restore the statement mailings in fiscal 2012 to people over age 60 not yet receiving benefits  – but that won’t happen “if Congress doesn’t provide adequate support,” says SSA spokesman Mark Hinkle. (The agency currently is operating under the second continuing budget resolution for FY 2012, which expires Nov. 18.)

This may sound insignificant, but it’s not. The benefit statement provides a valuable annual reminder of what you can expect to receive and how benefits are calculated – and it prompts us all to make Social Security part of our long-range retirement plans. For now, the alternative is to use the SSA’s online Retirement Estimator, which gives you a personalized projection of future benefits.

Hinkle says the SSA also has responded to the tight budget by reducing employee overtime by 80 percent. That has cut into the amount of time available to help people who come into SSA local field offices for face-to-face services. The agency also lost about 1,600 workers last year who can’t be replaced due to a hiring freeze.

Another major concern is processing of Social Security disability claims, which have soared in recent years. Unlike retirement benefit applications – which are handled in near-automatic fashion – each disability application is reviewed for approval. The average time for processing claims had peaked at 532 days in 2008, but SSA had cut that back to 346 days as of September this year through increases in the capacity to hold hearings. In FY 2011, the agency issued nearly 800,000 hearing decisions, an increase of 45 percent.

But that figure could fall as much as 400,000 in fiscal 2012 even if agency funding is held steady, according to the union that represents SSA workers. In a recent letter to the Super Committee, the National Council of Social Security Administration Field Operations Locals (part of the American Federation of Government Employees) outlined an array of negative impacts of budget cutting. Along with the threat to disability claims processing, the letter described potential further cutbacks in working hours and services.

What does it mean? Less face-to-face assistance for thousands of seniors, widows, disabled people and the poor — many of whom can’t easily resolve their benefit issues over the phone of the Internet.

Starve the beast? Indeed.

 

 

12 comments

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If it weren’t for people like you, the “little people” would be kept in the dark by the U.S. Government with little or no information to base decisions. Thanks for your article and keep up the excellent work.

Posted by Wassup | Report as abusive

I don’t mind if they move retirement back a few years. In fact, many older Americans are working longer and waiting to go on Medicare would ease the USA’s debt. I will be 60 years old in a few weeks. I wouldn’t mind waiting until 70 to go on Medicare and 70 is fine for Social Security also. Of course, I would like to collect Social Security payments sooner, but I’m willing to wait.

Posted by Onceagain | Report as abusive

This is unacceptable.

It is time to forever destroy the ability of the US Government to wage wars of aggression again. We simply do not need to invade any more countries which have not attacked us. Period. Possessing offensive capabilities simply destroys our country, and has for more than 50 years. If they can invade someone, they will.

Scap all but 2 big aircraft carriers. Scrap 3 out of 4 “junior” carriers, which we call “assault ships” but are just like what the British, French, Russians, and Chinese call aircraft carriers. Possessing these weapons is clearly something we cannot handle. Put a maximum head count for the military, including armed contractors, of less than half of our current total. Close all but 5 foreign military bases withing 3 years. Get out of NATO and all other military alliances or commitments. Almost all of this was paid for with stolen FICA “insurance” premiums.

Ok. Now can I have my Social Security check, please? Or don’t any of you political parasites want to keep your jobs? Maybe we cannot afford you either.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

If a government or an individual, or a country wants to get poor it fails to take care of the widows, orphans, and the elderly. This is so because that is the way it works. Just read history and when the rich tried to grab all the land, and the money, the country ended up in poverty or taken over.

Posted by fred5407 | Report as abusive

As all power and money continues to aggregate and accumulate in ever smaller numbers of people, the pace quickens to the eventual day when we begin a new system, a new game as it were, and we begin the game anew with all of us equal.

Posted by libertadormg | Report as abusive

I agree with Wassup, but how many people will receive this information??

The House can do this because it will be largely under the general radar.

Posted by Bartolo | Report as abusive

The best way to judge a government is by how well it cares for its citizens. I think we get a failing grade.

Posted by Marla | Report as abusive

I don’t feel well represented as a citizen of the USA. As a “Boomer” I don’t think our plight is a priority, even though we bought and paid for our Social Security. We need to make change as a majority and quit rolling over to the edicts of this President and his puppett Congress on the way this government treats us. Vote your freedom in November, 2012. Let’s dump these corporate money representatives disguised as our government.

Posted by Wassup | Report as abusive

Alan Simpson, Senator from Wyoming , Co-Chair of Obama’s deficit commission, calls senior citizens the Greediest Generation as he compared “Social Security” to a Milk Cow with 310 million teats.
Here’s a response in a letter from PATTY MYERS in Montana … I think she is a little ticked off! She also tells it like it is!

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“Hey Alan, let’s get a few things straight..

1. As a career politician, you have been on the public dole for FIFTY YEARS.

2. I have been paying Social Security taxes for 48 YEARS (since I was 15 years old. I am now 63).

3 My Social Security payments, and those of millions of other Americans, were safely tucked away in an interest bearing account for decades until you political pukes decided to raid the account and give OUR money to a bunch of zero ambition losers in return for votes, thus bankrupting the system and turning Social Security into a Ponzi scheme that would have made Bernie Madoff proud..

4. Recently, just like Lucy & Charlie Brown, you and your ilk pulled the proverbial football away from millions of American seniors nearing retirement and moved the goalposts for full retirement from age 65 to age 67. NOW, you and your shill commission is proposing to move the goalposts YET AGAIN.

5. I, and millions of other Americans, have been paying into Medicare from Day One, and now you morons propose to change the rules of the game. Why? Because you idiots mismanaged other parts of the economy to such an extent that you need to steal money from Medicare to pay the bills.

6. I, and millions of other Americans, have been paying income taxes our entire lives, and now you propose to increase our taxes yet again. Why? Because you incompetent bastards spent our money so profligately that you just kept on spending even after you ran out of money. Now, you come to the American taxpayers and say you need more to pay off YOUR debt.
To add insult to injury, you label us “greedy” for calling “bullshit” on your incompetence. Well, Captain Bullshit, I have a few questions for YOU.

1. How much money have you earned from the American taxpayers during your pathetic 50-year political career?

2. At what age did you retire from your pathetic political career, and how much are you receiving in annual retirement benefits from the American taxpayers?

3. How much do you pay for YOUR government provided health insurance?

4. What cuts in YOUR retirement and healthcare benefits are you proposing in your disgusting deficit reduction proposal, or, as usual, have you exempted yourself and your political cronies?

It is you, Captain Bullshit, and your political co-conspirators called Congress who are the “greedy” ones. It is you and your fellow nutcases who have bankrupted America and stolen the American dream from millions of loyal, patriotic taxpayers. And for what? Votes. That’s right, sir. You and yours have bankrupted America for the sole purpose of advancing your pathetic political careers. You know it, we know it, and you know that we know it.

And you can take that to the bank, you miserable son of a bitch.

If you like the way things are in America delete this. If you agree with what a fellow Montana citizen Patty Myers says, PASS IT ON!!!!

Posted by Intriped | Report as abusive

what person in their right mind will rely on social security for their sole retirement?!?! social security is a dying system and everybody knows that. What makes the government think that they can dig into our pockets and have a “required” retirement. Social security should be optional. period. In california we are laying off state jobs (the most stable industry) and cutting wages. If we can do that then we can definately postpone the age when you get your S.S. check. We are all taking cuts-why cant old farts take a cut?? oh… because there is a large percentage of old voters. Neither of the parties can piss off the old folks cause then they wud lose support and recieve critisism. It is OBVIOUS that the system will fail. i dont think S.S. has a choice but to postpone the age at which you recieve S.S. checks. I am 18 years old, conservative/ slight libertarian leaning. enlighten me. My philosophy changes every day :)

Posted by 11220800 | Report as abusive

Near Peoria, IL, the govt. is building an $800,000,000 Eastern Bypass even though tri-county population has decreased since 1980. And you want to cut social security??? In govt., the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing!

Posted by minipaws | Report as abusive

quote: social security for their sole retirement? unquote.

In my neck of the country mills have been shutting down left and right past several years. I personally know about 80 nice older gentlemen who were all at diff.mills, all very close to retiring, when the mills shut down and everyone lost their pensions.

That unfortunately is the start, so many people depending on SS…..

Posted by BellaMarie | Report as abusive