While there are reports of some progress in the fiscal cliff negotiations, the parties remain far apart and agreement is uncertain. One of the consequences of failure to reach agreement and the one that is of the most importance for the Social Security Administration is sequestration, a sudden, dramatic cut in the agency's operating budget effective January 1. Sequestration would be far worse for Social Security than a government shutdown. In a government shutdown, most of Social Security continues to operate. A Senate Finance Subcommittee report gives some idea of what sequestration would mean for Social Security:
In fiscal year 2012 SSA’s [Social Security Administration unnecessarily stated in the possessive form] had an administrative budget of $11.45 billion. This represents less than 1.5% of the over $800 billion it will pay in benefits. The sequester would cut SSA’s administrative budget by $890 million in fiscal year 2013. As a result, in fiscal year 2013 SSA would lose 5,000 staff through attrition and the loss of temporary hires. In addition, SSA’s approximately 65,000 employees and 15,000 State Disability Determinations Services employees would face approximately 6 weeks of furloughs.
Degradation of Basic Services
... The processing time for the 3.2 million Americans who will file disability claims would increase from 111 days in fiscal year 2012 to an estimated 180 days in fiscal year 2013. The number of pending disability claims would increase from 861,000 in fiscal year 2012 to almost 1.5 million by the end of fiscal year 2013. As field offices and telephone-service centers close their doors for 30 days throughout the year, the waiting time for the 45 million field office visitors and 63 million 1-800 number callers would increase dramatically.
Combating Waste, Fraud, and Abuse
This year the SSA will conduct 435,000 continuing disability reviews, to ensure individuals receiving disability benefits are still disabled, and 2.4 million SSI redeterminations, to ensure individuals receiving SSI still meet income and resources limitations. Combined, these two program integrity activities are expected to save $5.9 billion over 10 years, approximately $8 for each $1 spent. Under the sequester, SSA would be able to conduct 35,000 fewer continuing disability reviews and 500,000 fewer SSI redeterminations. This would cost the Federal government $500 million over 10 years from otherwise preventable waste, fraud, and abuse.