Social Security Setbacks: How Lack of Funding Could Severely Impede Services

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Like many people and organizations in 2022, the Social Security Administration is struggling to make ends meet with its current funds on hand. Just how much the agency is struggling was put into clear focus in a blog last week from Jeff Nesbit, the SSA’s deputy commissioner for communications.

In the Nov. 22 blog, Nesbit wrote that the most recent funding round approved by Congress is “not enough to cover the full year fixed cost increases or to maintain the hiring and overtime levels beyond December” to improve the SSA’s service.

He was referring to the $400 million in additional funds Congress recently allocated to Social Security for fiscal year 2023. As noted by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, the increased funding should help the SSAcope with its long-standing customer service backlog, which was greatly exacerbated by the pandemic.”

That backlog has created long wait times on the SSA’s toll-free phone line, extensive delays on disability claims hearings and long lines at field offices, as GOBankingRates has reported. With the new level of funding, those problems “likely will not get worse, but they may not significantly improve,” the committee said.

Nesbitt said much the same thing in his blog, noting that the $400 million approved by Congress was half of what the Biden administration requested. If Congress had approved $800 million instead of $400 million, it would have allowed the SSA to hire more employees, cover fixed cost increases, fund needed IT projects and allocate enough overtime to handle workloads, Nesbitt wrote.

With a much smaller-than-requested funding package, he warned that problems that have plagued the agency for years will continue into 2023.

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“We have faced years of underfunding,” Nesbitt wrote in the rare blog. “We are currently operating with approximately 4,000 fewer employees since prior to the pandemic — a 7% drop, since we have not had the funds to hire the level of staff needed.”

All this has happened during a period when millions of baby boomers have retired and signed up for Social Security benefits. The number of beneficiaries increased 21% between 2010 and 2021, according to the Government Executive website. At the same time, the SSA’s budget and workforce have dwindled.

“[We are] experiencing historically high levels of employees leaving the agency, because employees are carrying unreasonable workloads given the staffing shortage,” Nesbitt added. “As we lose employees, our service further deteriorates. You feel the effects of our staffing shortage. You are waiting an unacceptable average of over six months for a decision on an initial disability claim and over 30 minutes to speak to a representative on our National 800 Number.”

But there could be relief — if the current lame-duck Congress gives the thumbs up to President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget request of $14.8 billion for the SSA, a $1.4 billion increase from FY 2022.

The funds “would allow us to improve customer service and offer the service experience you deserve,” Nesbitt wrote. “Without additional funding in FY 2023, we would be forced to freeze hiring, cut overtime, and cut funding for our IT investments. It is critical that we have the resources to restore staffing losses and continue our important IT investments or face years of deteriorating services that you will not and should not accept. We must be able to provide timely and quality service to everyone who depends on us.”

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