More On The Impending Government Shutdown On Social Security Benefits

On February 14, 2011, the Social Security Administration issued a press release entitled Statement of Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, on the President’s Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request . In it, he said,

As the baby boomers retire and reach their disability-prone years, Social Security’s workloads continue to grow. In addition, the economic downturn has greatly increased the demand for our services. Despite this dramatic growth in our work, through increased employee productivity, new initiatives, and improved funding we have reversed a trend of declining service and an increasing backlog in our disability workloads.

The President’s budget request of $12.522 billion for Social Security’s administrative expenses will allow us to maintain staffing in our front-line components, fund ongoing activities, and cover our inflationary increases. It will allow us to reduce our hearings and initial disability claims backlogs, and to continue to reverse the decline in our program integrity work. Program integrity work not only pays for itself, but also produces considerable savings to the taxpayers.

Full funding by Congress of the President’s budget request is critical.

The 111th Congress failed to approve a budget before their session ended.  The Federal government is now running on a continuing resolution (CR) which will expire on March 3, 2011.  Counting today, that’s just ten days off.  Under the CR, government administrative costs are frozen at 2010 levels.  For Social Security, that is equivalent to $11.5 billion for the entire fiscal year.  The budget measure passed last Friday by House Republicans would cut $1.7 from the 2010 amount, leaving only $9.8 billion for the fiscal year, about 78% of what the President asked for.

SSA has already spent some of what they were allocated for the fiscal year under the CR to cover their expenses for the five months of the fiscal year which have already elapsed.  If they have already spent 5/12 of the CR amount, or about $4.8 billion, which seems reasonable considering that they need a lot more than this,  they would only have $5 billion left for the rest of the fiscal year, under the Republican’s measure.  The Republicans do not want to do anything meaningful to preserve Social Security.  They are afraid to cut Social Security benefits, and they are afraid to raise Social Security’s revenue.  They are caught between the Teabaggers on the one hand and the millions who receive SSA, or who expect to receive it soon on the other.  What they can do is make it a lot harder for people to get the service they need from the Social Security administration.

According to a letter sent by the National Council to Preserve Social Security and Medicare to Congress, the deep Republican cuts to Social Security’s administrative budget mean, “having to wait longer to get an appointment to file for benefits.

It means not receiving a decision in a timely manner. It means getting a busy signal when you call an office or the Agency’s toll-free 800 number telephone service.

It means not having your change of address or direct deposit information processed in a timely fashion.

And finally, it means significant employee furloughs or even office closures, resulting in even greater degradations of service to America’s seniors.”  [and disabled people who receive Social Security benefits.]

Presumably the Senate has received the House measure by now.  The Senate Democrats will, I hope, show some spine and stand up for Americans who count on Social Security, and the hundreds of other agencies the Republicans want to partially or fully defund with their draconian budget measure.

They might do that if they were even there.  I called one of my Senators this morning, and was advised by a slightly bored sounding staffer that the Senate was on recess this week.  Nothing is getting done.  Nothing will even be initiated until Monday, February 28, 2011.  Someone made a real intelligent decision.

When the Senate returns, we will have four days before the CR expires.  I seriously doubt that the Senate can introduce, accept amendments, debate, and pass their own version, hopefully a more humane version, of the budget quickly.  Assuming they can do all this in a couple of days, then the two versions have to go to a House-Senate conference committee, where the differences have to be hammered out. All of this has to be done before midnight, March 3.  If it fails to happen within that time frame, there will be a government shut down.

If the federal government does shut down, non-essential employees will not be allowed to do their jobs.  Last week, both President Obama and House Minority Leader Pelosi said that Social Security checks would be delayed, and that would almost immediately affect beneficiaries.  About 1/4 of all Social Security beneficiaries (somewhere between 12 and 15 million people) are scheduled to receive their payments on March 9, 2011 (the second Wednesday of the month.)  Another 1/4 of all beneficiaries are scheduled to receive their payments on March 16, 2011 (the third Wednesday of the month.)

A two week shutdown will cause nearly 30 million beneficiaries to go without their checks, at least for awhile.  Bills will go unpaid.  Some people will go hungry.  Some people will be just a little closer to homelessness.  It’s still winter.  Some people could freeze to death.  Congress needs to act like responsible adults here, not petulant, sulking children.  They took an oath to do the country’s business.  Where are they?  Skylarking at home, raising money for their next elections.  They should be ashamed of themselves.

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