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This piece originally ran yesterday in the Huffington Post by the Strengthen Social Security Campaign co-director Nancy Altman.  I work for the campaign and am pleased to repost on Nancy's behalf.

Imagine that you bought an insurance policy that guaranteed you $1,100 a month starting at age 62. When you tried to collect, you couldn't reach an agent on the phone, so you went to the office during its business hours, but the office was closed. When you finally found a day when the office was open, the overwhelmed employees made you wait hours and then told you that you would have to wait longer than usual to start getting your first monthly check because the agency had decided to cut back its hours, even though it was running a profit.

This could happen to you. You have purchased a retirement insurance annuity, as well as life insurance and disability insurance, and have paid for all the associated administrative costs, through deductions from your paycheck, the ones labeled "FICA" or "Social Security." Congress places a limit on what the Social Security Administration can spend, but the money is yours, deducted straight from your paychecks, solely for payment of Social Security's promised benefits and associated administrative costs.

Unlike the general operating fund of the federal government, Social Security is flush right now. It has an accumulated reserve of $2.6 trillion. It ran an annual surplus in 2010 estimated by SSA at $77 billion, and is projected to have an annual surplus in 2011 of $113 billion. If its benefits or administrative costs are cut, it will simply have a larger surplus this year.

With the aging of the baby boom generation, as well as the current high unemployment rate, benefit claims for benefits are at an all time high. Accordingly, President Obama has proposed, as any private sector executive would, to increase the amount taken from the Trust Funds for administrative costs by about $1 billion.

But the Republicans in the House of Representatives want to strip away $1.7 billionfrom the already underfunded agency, money that is needed simply to keep offices open. If the Republicans' budget plan goes through, the entire agency, including all 1,300 field offices might have to close for a month. A letter in anticipation of this has already been sent out to all employees. The phones would not be answered, and claims processing would halt. Around 700,000 workers who had purchased annuities and paid for the overhead would be forced into a backlog. Even worse, given the well documented need to replace SSA's aging computer system, the Republicans' proposed cuts threaten the whole program, if the current system and its backup were to fail before the building of the new system, already behind schedule, were completed.

No business would take these steps with its most popular product. No one is claiming there is waste. To the contrary, SSA is extremely efficient, spending less that one penny of every dollar on administration, with the other 99 cents going for our benefits. A private corporation would love to have this level of efficiency. So why are the Republicans, who claim they want the government to be more like business, deliberately seeking to undermine its most successful product?

The answer has to be ideology. There is no explanation other than a calculated effort to undermine support for Social Security, and in so doing, to further undermine confidence in the government. The Social Security Administration is the part of the federal government with which most Americans have the most direct contact. In addition to seeing money go to Social Security every pay period, workers receive annual statements from the agency. If tragedy strikes in the form of disability or premature death or if they decide to retire after a lifetime of work, the Social Security Administration is where workers and their families go. From the beginning, SSA has emphasized the importance of service. It used to be that every single employee was trained to understand the importance of Social Security, so all employees, no matter what their job, could understand that they were serving the public. More recent commissioners have eliminated this universal training and taken other steps that have undercut morale. Freezing the pay and cutting back on employee hours will undoubtedly undercut morale further.

It is time to take a stand. Public servants serve the public. Some do so by patrolling our streets, teaching our children, responding to fires, collecting our garbage. Those at SSA do so by ensuring that we receive in a timely fashion the benefits we have earned. In the case of Social Security, Republicans cannot even argue that the deficit is making them do it, because Social Security is in surplus.

I urge you to tell your elected members -- they do work for you -- , that you want your local Social Security office open and well-staffed. After all, you have already paid for that service.

Follow Nancy Altman on Twitter:

Originally posted to joshuarosenblum on Fri Feb 25, 2011 at 08:07 AM PST.

Also republished by Social Security Defenders.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Obviously the GOP is willing to go (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Calamity Jean, jfromga, whaddaya

    to any lengths to undermine the popularity and the confidence the public has in SS. Disgraceful.

    "George RR Martin is not your bitch" ~~ Neil Gaiman

    by tardis10 on Fri Feb 25, 2011 at 08:26:07 AM PST

  •  On the one hand, the Social Security (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    program must be protected against Republican attacks. On the other hand, what is the justification for 1300 field offices, especially in this age of electronic communication?

    •  maybe because (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      millwood, Calamity Jean, whaddaya

      many older Americans are not able to communicate electronically with the facility of younger Americans.  Not all of them have relatives who can do it for them.   Not all of them trust these new fangled machines.  Significant numbers have disabilities that make using machines with small buttons difficult or impossible, memory problems, etc, and no one to help them.  

      SS has automated, either by computer or phone systems almost everything they do.   But they have other functions besides new addresses, etc., and some people feel better carrying in documents and sharing information in person.  They can carry in their papers and let the field worker sort out what they need.

      •  Still not an answer. (0+ / 0-)

        While many older Americans "are not able to communicate electronically" or not able to use machines with small buttons (are they using phones with small buttons?), many millions more, especially Baby Boomers, are comfortable with electronic communication.

        Bureaucracies can always find reasons to justify themselves, but 1300 Social Security offices still is an unwarranted and unnecessary tax burden on Americans.

        •  the numbers don't bear that out (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          less than one penny out of every dollar to administer SS, this is not some huge waste.  Further, I don't that customer service over the counter is the only purpose of those offices.  They probably have field investigators for fraud, disability, they have to hold hearings on claims, etc.    Of all the things to attack, accessibility of social security personnel has to be small potatoes money wise, and big on anti-people service.  

        •  Some services that Social Security (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          provides require, by law, that the person needing the service must come in to a Social Security office in person to show documents and be interviewed.  The agency needs to have offices within reasonable distances of the people who need them.  

          Whether Social Security has 1300 local offices or consolidates to 325, the main requirement is that Social Security has enough appropriately trained employees working enough hours to process all of the actions requested by people who need them.   Benefits need to be calculated, addresses need changing, lost Medicare cards need to be replaced, and people who can't communicate electronically are entitled to have someone help them with these things.  

          I actually like the idea of shutting down SS for a while.  It's already desperately short of staff, and being closed will make it clear to all citizens that the reason the work isn't being done in a timely manner is because of politics, not because the workers aren't willing to work.  

          Renewable energy brings national security.      -6.25, -6.05

          by Calamity Jean on Fri Feb 25, 2011 at 11:06:08 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  SSA Administrative Spending (0+ / 0-)

            This is a great convo I'm joining late but wanted to add two things:

            1.  Just 1% of Social Security costs go to administrative spending.


            2.  Now that baby boomers have begun retiring, including SSA staff, new claims staff need adequate training, which takes time, energy and gets interrupted when funds get cut for administrative costs.

        •  Nospinicus, chill. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Bruce Webb

          SSA has work plans every year. This year's work plan calls for 60% of all retirement claims to be processed via the internet. When you go to SSA's website, you will see that you can apply for retirment and disability benefits online. You can also put in a change of address or change your direct deposit information, and so forth. The disability process is complex and requires much additional information and interviews. However, retirement claims are usually much less complicated and are amenable to online processing.

          Of course, claims are not the most complex and time consuming activity for local Field Offices. The SSI program involves work reports, periodic eligibility reviews, frequent overpayments, and other changes in the recipient's payment amounts which are impossible to process by direct recipient input. Not only that, but SSA now has about 700K pending hearings and hundreds or thousands more coming in every day. To pay these actions requires hours of manual computations, extensive development of worker's computation and SSI offset amounts, obtaining claims from any eligible dependents, and so on.

          Now, not to drone on, but that doesn't touch SSN applications, preclaims actions such as missing earnings or scrambled earnings cases, Medicare premium problems, Continuing Disability Reviews, and on and on.

          That's why there are 1300 offices. At least 50 percent of SSA's field office workloads are complicated preclaims, appeals, or postentitlement actions of which SSA processes 100's of thousands a year. Whaddaya

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