In recent years, one of the safest, easiest places for Congress to make budget cuts was at the Social Security Administration. A recent Reuters column points out that the cuts have made it difficult for customers to get information, help and services. Who are Social Security’s customers? Mostly the retired, and workers with serious, long-term health problems that prevent them from continuing their careers.
The first hint of relief for customers was buried deep in the recent budget passed by Congress. Lawmakers ignored the administration’s request to keep spending at the federal agency flat, and instead increased its budget by $480 million.
It would be difficult to think of a part of the federal government that has such a direct and significant impact on people’s lives as Social Security. More than 67 million Americans (that’s more than six times North Carolina’s population) depend on it.
As the nation ages (the Baby Boom generation is adding about a million people to Social Security in one way or another), there has been more demand for retirement and disability benefits. But the years of cuts to the agency’s budgets mean that people today filing a claim for SSDI have an initial wait of about 200 days to hear whether they will receive benefits or not. If they are denied benefits, they can appeal – but the appeals process now stretches to about 605 days on average.
While the recent budget boost is a down payment on much-needed customer service improvements, it won’t magically transform the agency into a model of efficiency. Reuters says more investment is needed in coming budgets to start to reverse the agency’s downward spiral in recent years.
Let’s hope next year’s Congress is even more generous and responsible and provides Social Security with the funds needed to serve its customers.