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TIME TO REPEAL CUTS TO SOCIAL SECURITY

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
 
SPENDING MUST GO BACK TO 2010 LEVELS
 

Democrats claim to be defenders of Social Security and Medicare.  However,  President Obama joined with Republicans to create some the worst cuts ever in the budget for running these vital programs.

The result has been a social disaster of epic dimensions.

Last year, 10,000 people died waiting for social security benefits. And in the last two years, nearly 19,000 died. The wait for benefits has soared from around 350 days in 2012, to nearly 600 in 2017 (The Washington Post). The disability backlog has now reached more than 1 million Americans, with an average wait of 2 years — longer than some have to live. About 10.5 million people get disability benefits from Social Security, and an additional 8 million get disability benefits from Supplemental Security Income. The disability program is smaller than the Social Security giant's retirement program, but still, the agency paid out $197 billion in disability payments last year.

These record wait times are no surprise, given the fact that the Social Security Administration's (SSA) budget has been cut since 2010, while the number of people receiving retirement and disability benefits has risen by more than 7 million (The Washington Post). The SSA's operating budget has shrank 11 percent from 2010 to 2017 in inflation-adjusted terms, just as the demands on the SSA have reached an all-time high — baby boomers have reached their peak years for retirement and disability. Budget cutting has squeezed the SSA's operating budget from an already low 0.9 percent of overall Social Security spending in 2010, to just 0.7 percent in 2016.

While the House proposed flat funding for 2018, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed another $400 million cut, nearly 4 percent of the SSA's operating budget, which would bring the total cuts since 2010 to 16 percent after inflation. Even a small cut would have a noticeably negative affect on operations.

For numerous Americans, Social Security is vital to their economic security and survival. A majority of America's seniors rely upon Social Security. Without a guaranteed monthly income, the number of seniors living below the poverty line could rise by millions. In fact, the SSA reports that 34% of elderly Americans receiving benefits rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their monthly income. Statistics like these are why Social Security is so important, and why current and future retirees are eager to see this critical program protected.

But despite the importance of Social Security, years of devastating cuts have taken their toll, leading to long waits on the phone, in offices, as well as record-high disability backlogs. The SSA has made cuts in customer service so they can operate under their extremely tight budget, which has forced them to close offices, shorten field hours, shrink their staff, increase automation, and reduce the number of SSA statements they send. These cuts have hampered the SSA's ability to perform essential services, such as determining eligibility in a timely manner for retirement, survivor and disability benefits, paying benefits accurately and on time, responding to questions from the public, and updating benefits promptly when circumstances change.

These cuts are hurting hard-working people who have earned benefits and paid for high-quality service. This money is coming from workers' contributions to Social Security, not the general treasury. And yet the funds Congress allows the SSA to spend, in turn, count against the tight funding limits on non-defense discretionary funding set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), which were further lowered by sequestration, also put in place by 2011 law. The BCA allows additional funding each year for the SSA's cost-saving program integrity activities such as continuing disability reviews (CDRs). The tight funding caps required by the BCA and sequestration have been in place since 2012 and have forced cuts in a broad range of appropriated programs, including SSA operating funds.

Yet these efficiencies can't make up for the fact that the SSA has an additional 1 million beneficiaries each year. Work loads and costs are growing, while the SSA's budget is shrinking. This is a dangerous combination. The SSA's budget has worsened by nearly every metric. Further cuts will force the agency to freeze hiring, furlough staff, close more field offices, and further restrict office hours, leading to yet longer wait times for taxpayers and beneficiaries who need help. This is a direct threat to seniors and the disabled.

The cuts would have been deeper if Congress had not reached a bipartisan agreement to ease sequestration in both defense and non-defense programs, starting in 2014. These temporary agreements, however, only lasted through 2017. And the SSA is very unlikely to receive adequate funding unless Congress once again reaches an agreement to reduce sequestration cuts.

The problem is that the money may not be there. The Republican's tax cut plan for big corporations and the rich will cause a projected $1.4 trillion deficit over the next decade (Congressional Budget Office).

We are glad to see Democrats make some effort to stop a totally insane Senate Republican plan to cut over $400 million from Social Security.

However, this is not at all adequate deal with a national crisis.   At a minimum the SSA operating budget needs to go back to where it was in 2010.

 


RELATED READING

REPORTS

Social Security Fact Sheet PDF

More Cuts to Social Security Administration Funding Would Further Degrade Service (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10-6-17)

 

NEWS ARTICLES

597 days. And still waiting. 10,000 people die waiting for benefits. (The Washington Post, 11-20-17)

Disability backlog tops 1M; thousands die on waitlist (CBS News, 9-17-17)

Will Republicans Cut Social Security and Medicare For Poor and Elderly to Pay for Their Tax Plan? (News Week, 12-4-17)

Tax bill could fuel push for Medicare, Social Security cuts (The Hill, 12-3-17)

Sen. Rubio tells a secret: After giving a tax cut to the rich, GOP will cut Social Security and Medicare (Latimes, 11-20-17)

The GOP Tax Plan Could Negatively Affect Your Social Security Benefits (Fool, 11-20-17)

Congress tries to squeeze more out of Social Security, wrecking its customer service (LA Times, 10-19-17)

The Trump budget cuts Social Security, plain and simple (The Hill, 5-30-17)

Trump Budget Cuts Social Security And Medicaid, Breaking Major Promises (Forbes, 5-23-17)