Sep 24, 2011

Why Appropriations Matter

     From a letter sent by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union the represents most Social Security employees, to the Democratic members of the "Supercommittee" that is supposed to come up with means to reduce federal budget deficits (emphasis added):
Recently, AFGE’s Social Security Council was provided with a comprehensive briefing by SSA [Social Security Administration] officials regarding the impact of different budget reduction scenarios on SSA services and programs.   It was made quite clear that any reductions below the FY [Fiscal Year] 12 Budget Request will have adverse consequences.    Further cuts below the current FY 11 baseline will lead to furloughs, staffing reductions, office closings, longer wait times and general dissatisfaction with the Social Security system itself.  The union was informed by SSA officials that for every $25 million of cuts below the FY 11 appropriation, SSA will be forced to furlough both SSA federal employees and State Disability Determination Service workers 1 day.
With respect to office closings, S.S.A. has closed or proposed to close 19 offices to date in 2011.  AFGE expects that number to increase significantly before the end of the year.   Each of those offices has less than 15 employees and was targeted in 2007/2008.  However, SSA is aggressively proceeding with its plans and not waiting for leases to expire.  AFGE’s Social Security Field Council has determined that more than 515 offices could be at risk of closure. 
The letter includes this summary that must have come from SSA (again with emphasis added):
FY 2011 Current Status
1. S.S.A FY 2011 administrative expenses appropriation is $11.4 billion, nearly $1 billion below the amount the President requested.
2. S.S.A-wide hiring freeze with the exception of hearings operation (ODAR [Office of Disability Adjudication and Review]).
3. Overtime spending has been severely reduced despite increasing workloads and reductions in personnel..
4. S.S.A will lose about 2,500 federal employees and 1,000 DDS (Disability Determination Service) State employees.
     o    As a result, S.S.A is facing geographical disparities in service as some offices are facing more losses than others.
5. S.S.A did not open 8 new hearing offices and the Jackson, TN Teleservice Center.
6. S.S.A stopped service in most contact stations and remote sites.
7. S.S.A temporarily suspended mailing the Social Security Statement.  Neither the union nor the public were notified in advance of this change.  Social Security statements are an important link between young contributors and the benefits they will receive when they retire.  
8. S.S.A closed Social Security field offices to the public 30 minutes early each day beginning August 15, 2011.  Yet the agency has provided no evidence or cost analysis to show that this reduction in hours will in fact save money.

FY 2012 at Level  Funding
9. Level funding in FY 2012 would effectively leave us with about $800 million below our FY 2011 funding:
     o    In FY 2011, S.S.A is using approximately $450 million of IT [Internet Technology] no-year funding, which S.S.A will not have in FY 2012. (See table for available funding.[table not included in AFGE letter])
     o    S.S.A also expects to incur approximately $350 million in growth of mandatory cost increases, such as rising health care costs for our employees and increases in rent and guard costs, etc.
10. S.S.A would lose another 4,400 SSA and DDS employees in FY 2012.  This would be on top of the 3,500 S.S.A expects to lose this year for a total reduction of 7,900 employees in two years. 
11. S.S.A would complete 568,500 periodic medical CDRs (Continuing Disability Reviews) and 2.622 million SSI non-disability redeterminations, consistent with the Budget Control Act.
12. S.S.A would complete 2.8 million disability claims, nearly 400,000 less than in FY 2011, with pending levels rising from 845,000 to about 1.2 million and processing time exceeding 4 months.
13. It would greatly delay other less visible workloads, as S.S.A faces a snowball effect of staffing losses two years in a row.  
FY 2012 Budget at Below Level Funding
14. If FY 2012 funding is below the FY 2011 funding level, our performance would be substantially worse, and it would be difficult to avoid furloughs and closing our doors to the American people.
15. An across the board reduction in agency spending of 5 percent will result in the imposition of 24 furlough days for every S.S.A and D.D.S. employee.
16. Each furlough day would result in approximately 19,000 retirement claims, 11,000 initial disability claims, and 3,000 hearings S.S.A would not be able to complete.
17. Each furlough day would also result in 2,400 periodic medical CDRs and 10,500 SSI redeterminations that S.S.A could not complete. These reviews more than pay for themselves and are vital to protecting taxpayer dollars. 
18. Substantial cuts in our administrative budget will result in significantly higher program costs and negatively affect the economy. 
 By the way, why isn't SSA releasing this information directly to the public?


Anonymous said...

Having difficulty thinking that the SSA fed and DDS payroll adds up to $25m per day. I'd have thought it'd be higher. But one thing DCBFM is pretty good at is budgets, so it's likely not an unreasonable number.

Anonymous said...

The early office closings save money because it allows staff to do work that would otherwise need overtime to keep up with.

Anonymous said...

The most significant aspect is errosion of public confidence in SSA. That is precisely the goal of the corporate right. Overall public satisfaction is the primary barrier to privatization. They have wet-dreams over the prospect of a widow deciding she'd rather forfeit 10% (in fees) to the broker down the street than have to wait 90 days or more to get an appointment with SSA.