Long waits for the Social Security department signal a need for more funds

A Social Security Administration office in San Francisco.

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The Social Security Administration’s average wait time for an initial disability decision hit an all-time high in August of more than six months, or 198 days, nearly three times longer than a decade ago.

It’s just one of many signs that Social Security services have been unable to keep pace as the agency’s funding falls short of what it needs, experts said this week. .

In a letter sent Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., AARP noted wait times of about 31 minutes on Social Security 800 number, about 10 times longer than they were in 2012. Meanwhile, the average disability claimant is now waiting more than two years for a final decision, while more than 10,000 people die every year without an answer, the non-partisan organization said in its letter.

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Complaints have also surfaced recently about long lines at high temperatures at some Social Security offices.

AARP separately this week sent a letter to the Social Security Administration expressing concern about long waits for customer service.

Problems stem from ‘constant erosion’ of funding

The federal agency has been strained as its operating budget has shrunk by 14% from 2010 to 2021 and the number of beneficiaries has increased by 22% to more than 70 million, including security beneficiaries Social Security and Supplemental Security Income.

“The added burden brought on by the pandemic hasn’t helped matters, but a steady erosion of SSA’s administrative funding over the past decade is the primary reason for the rapid decline in customer service,” Nancy A. LeaMond wrote. , Executive Vice President and Head of Advocacy. and AARP escrow officer.

Congress will have a chance to ease the situation when it considers a continued resolution to allow government agencies like Social Security to continue full operations when the fiscal year begins Oct. 1. To date, no appropriation bill has been passed for fiscal year 2023. .

Continuing resolutions typically include what are known as anomaly provisions, which will provide an opportunity to provide additional funding to Social Security, Kathleen Romig, director of Social Security and Policy, wrote this week. disability at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

A current proposal calls for increasing Social Security’s operating budget by $800 million, or 6%, while the continuing resolution is in effect. While that falls short of the more than $1 billion that President Joe Biden had requested for the agency’s 2023 operating budget, it would still help bolster the agency’s resources, according to Romig.

Yet without additional funding for Social Security through anomaly processing, the agency’s customer service problems would worsen if it were forced to rely on 2022 funding levels, Romig predicted. The agency is expected to cut spending in some areas as it faces rising costs, which could include a hiring freeze and overtime cuts.

High employee turnover exacerbates long waits

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Some of the most pronounced service issues appear where employee attrition rates are highest, Romig noted.

The state’s Disability Discrimination Services, where initial disability decisions are made, has a 25% attrition rate, she said. This contributed to the record average wait time for initial disability decisions. These public services are funded by the Social Security Administration.

The highest employee attrition rate in the Social Security Administration is at teleservice centers, according to Romig, which has resulted in long phone wait times.

Without more funding, these problems could be exacerbated. “With these very high attrition levels, things are definitely going to get worse,” Romig said.

“People struggle to complete even routine tasks”

Service issues affect not only Social Security recipients, but also anyone who needs to access the agency for other reasons, such as a change of name, declaration of death of a family member or the request for a new card.

“Seventy million Americans are on Social Security and/or SSI, so it affects a lot of people,” Romig said. “And people find it difficult to complete even routine tasks.”

While AARP has worked to raise awareness of Social Security customer service issues, no Congressional office has ever said it doesn’t hear from constituents who seek help in resolving the issues they face. They were meeting with the Social Security Administration, said Cristina Martin Firvida, vice president of government affairs. at AARP.

Now there is a sense that attention to the issue has increased, she said, as leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee and others have drawn attention to the issues.

“There are a number of key legislators, policymakers who are really starting to focus on this issue that can’t stay on the back burner any longer,” Firvida said.

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