President Trump has pledged not to cut Social Security benefits, but beneficiaries are already suffering due to cuts in the operating budget of the Social Security Administration (SSA).
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the core operating budget of the SSA has been reduced by 10 percent, adjusted for inflation, since 2010. These budget cuts affect beneficiaries, most dramatically in the long wait for disability hearings. In 2016, the number of people waiting for a hearing to determine their eligibility for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits rose above 1 million, and the average wait time for a hearing increased from 360 days in 2011 to 540 days in 2016.
The Office of the Inspector General of the SSA released a report last month that showed that the average wait time in local field offices increased from 19 minutes in fiscal year 2010 to 26 minutes in 2015. About 4.5 million people — more than 11 percent of visitors — waited one hour or more at a field office in 2015. That’s up from 2.3 million people waiting an hour or more in 2010. The wait times increased even as the number of people visiting field offices decreased. Social Security staff also must handle telephone and online inquiries. The agency is chronically underfunded for its administrative work and needs to hire more staff members to meet the public need. Unfortunately, exactly the opposite is in store.
On Jan. 23, President Trump ordered a hiring freeze for the federal government, except for military, public safety and national security positions, saying that this was a temporary measure until a plan is formulated to reduce federal employment through attrition. Cutting Social Security’s workforce will only add to the problem of long waits and poor service that many beneficiaries are seeing.
The President and Congress need to know that pledging not to cut Social Security benefits is not enough. Benefits need to be expanded, and the SSA needs to be properly funded so that the public can receive needed services and disability hearings can be held in a timely manner.