Budget Cuts Put Basic Functions at Risk; Agency Already Struggling To Keep Up
WASHINGTON, DC-- Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), senior Democrat on the Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, made the following opening statement at the subcommittee’s hearing today. The hearing focused on how the Social Security Administration is dealing with budget cuts in an already-tight fiscal atmosphere.
The following remarks are as prepared for delivery:
“Social Security is the ultimate legislative expression of our nation’s shared values. For over 75 years, it has tied generation to generation. It ensures that seniors have a secure retirement after decades of service to their communities. And it provides a safety net for those who can no longer work due to an accident or disability.
“As soon as the first Social Security check was issued, poverty among the elderly began to drop, from more than thirty percent of elderly Americans in the 1950s to ten percent today. Two out of three seniors today rely on Social Security as the prime source of monthly income, including three-quarters of all elderly women.
“But, as on so many other fronts, the Majority’s reckless decision to let sequestration go through puts the basic functions of Social Security at risk. These cuts come at a time when agencies have been dealing with funding that has not kept up with inflation and demand over the years.
“In the case of the Social Security Administration, funding over the past two fiscal years for routine operations has been essentially flat. In each of these years the funding level provided was below the President’s request by $924 million, or 8 percent. These cuts have a real impact on our ability to serve our seniors, and to ensure they get the proper benefits they have earned.
“Efforts to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse and to ensure that benefits only go to eligible individuals have not been fully funded. The Budget Control Act permits additional funding to be provided above the spending caps for continuing disability reviews and SSI redeterminations. If this had been fully funded in 2012, it would have provided an additional $140 million for program integrity.
“The 2013 House subcommittee bill provided none of this funding – effectively cutting this work by $483 million. In other words, while the majority claims to want to save money by cutting out program waste and inefficiencies, their rhetoric is not matched by their action. Rather, it suggests that they would prefer to see Social Security falter in its basic responsibilities to Americans.
“Let’s be clear: The only thing SSA uses its funding for is to get Social Security benefits to the seniors and others who deserve them in a timely fashion. We are talking about retirees that have worked their entire lives for their retirement benefits, individuals with disabilities, and seniors living in poverty.
“Right now, people are waiting desperately for resources they deserve, earned, and need to get by. But with these deep cuts, fewer applications will be processed, backlogs will grow, more erroneous payments will be made, and people will have to wait even longer in offices, or to have their phone calls answered.
“The Social Security Administration is already understaffed, and these cuts will only make things worse. Due to limited resources, the Social Security Administration has already taken measures such as curbing hiring and closing offices.
“Meanwhile, a record number of individuals filed retirement claims in FY 2012. And while the Social Security agency should be applauded for completing 820,000 disability appeals hearings last year, the backlog still grew by 29,000 to 817,000. Despite some recent progress, the average wait for a disability appeals hearing is nearly a year.
“I understand the Social Security Administration has been taking advantage of technology to cushion some of the effects of these deep funding cuts. We definitely want to hear about those efforts. But technology can only go so far, since so much of this work is lengthy, complicated, and requires individual attention. This kind of work demands a trained, knowledgeable employee, a real person, actually working with a beneficiary to assist them.
“This combination of more work and fewer staff has stretched the agency to near a breaking point. Unfortunately the future looks even bleaker. In less than ten years, the cuts made through existing BCA caps will take non-defense discretionary spending to the lowest level on record as a share of GDP. Some people are demanding further reductions in the caps, which would mean that these shortfalls will just get worse. We simply cannot do that and properly provide our seniors and others with the benefits they deserve.
“So, I would like to welcome today’s witness. And I hope that she can help the subcommittee understand the real impact of these misguided budget policies on seniors and families. Thank you.”