While the odious chained CPI cut to Social Security benefits has been fought off, there's a longer-term, more successful battle against Social Security that's actually been terribly successful. More than a decade's worth of cuts to the Social Security Administration's has curtailed the SSA's work with the public, and is undermining the program.
The loudest battles over Social Security are about potential benefit cuts like the recently vanquished "chained CPI" proposal. But another, less noticed fight has been going on for years. It's aimed at undermining Social Security through systematic budget cutting by Congress of the operating budget of the SSA, the agency charged with providing customer service to the public.One glaring change: that annual statement you used to get that provided your earnings to date and estimated your monthly benefits is gone now. It was an important educational tool for Social Security, and a reminder that you are paying into a secure retirement fund. The statements are still available, but you have to be able to go online or visit an SSA office in order to get it. So far only 10 million people, just 6 percent of the workforce, has signed up to get the online statements.
The SSA has received less than its budget request in 14 of the past 16 years. In fiscal 2012, for example, SSA operated with 88 percent of the amount requested ($11.4 billion).
"It's part of a raging fight by conservatives to get rid of the government's footprint wherever possible," says Nancy Altman, co-director of Strengthen Social Security, an advocacy group.
That's not all that's been sacrificed, though. Staff has been slashed down to 62,000 from a peak of 70,000 in the 1990s, and since 2010 field offices have been consolidated, from 92 down to 46. This, as any Republican will tell you when they're trying to convince you that Social Security must be cut, as the population is getting older and more and more baby boomers are becoming eligible. Wait times at the field office for help have increased 30 percent in the last year, and the busy signals on the toll-free phone line have doubled in the same time frame. All that combines to frustrate the public. What's particularly galling about this long-term chipping away of SSA funding is that it is funded by our payroll taxes, the same funding stream for Social Security benefits and shouldn't be subject to budget cutting. What's more, the SSA is remarkably efficient, with administrative costs that are just 1.4 percent of outlays.
These cuts have made it harder for SSA to do the simple things a government service should do for taxpayers, like providing paper proof of Social Security numbers for people applying for jobs or social services. Which is all part of the larger Republican plan to discredit, and destroy, government. That's the plan the deficit fetishists, including far too many Democrats, have signed onto.