At a time when a massive wave of retirees is swamping it with demand, the Social Security Administration is underfunded and unable to deliver services efficiently, according to a report issued today by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Double-digit staffing cuts have led to the closure of dozens of offices nationwide and have contributed to a backlog of more than one million benefits applications.
The report, by Kathleen Romig, finds that since 2010, the money Congress allocates to the Social Security Administration has declined by 10 percent when adjusted for inflation. That has led to a nationwide 6 percent reduction in staffing. Romig found five states -- Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and West Virginia -- where staff had been reduced by 15 percent or more.
“SSA has been forced to close 64 field offices since 2010, at least one in nearly every state,” Romig writes. “Shuttering field offices reduces access to essential services, particularly in rural areas. New York alone has shuttered 12 field offices, while Pennsylvania has closed half a dozen.”
While Romig concedes that many of the services SSA provides can be delivered remotely or automatically, she argues forcefully that in many cases there is no substitute for a human able to interact directly with the agency’s clients.
“SSA will always need to provide high-quality service in the field,” she writes. “Although straightforward requests can be handled online or by phone, more complex cases often require face-to-face help. SSA primarily serves Americans who are elderly or disabled, often at traumatic moments in their lives such as the onset of a disability or the death of a spouse. Its clients are diverse and include people suffering from severe mental impairments and people with limited ability to speak English. Its staff provide critical guidance to workers making complex, life-altering decisions. Providing prompt and thorough service in the field reduces errors that SSA staff must fix later.”