BURLINGTON, Vt., Oct. 31 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Tuesday called on Congress to reverse deep budget cuts that have left Social Security Administration offices understaffed and unable to keep up with growing caseloads.
In a letter to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who chairs the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Sanders said, “Social Security is one of the most successful government programs in our nation’s history, and we must not undermine it by underfunding routine operations.”
Sanders said his office has heard from many Vermonters who have expressed frustration that claims, appeals and even routine inquiries are taking longer to process, sometimes causing significant financial hardship. “The constituent caseworkers in my Vermont district office are receiving an increasing number of Social Security related cases, and many involve concerns about client service. One Vermonter was on hold for 80 minutes with a local field office, and disconnected several times, before getting through to a live person. Others have had to wait many months for the agency to correct relatively simple payment issues,” Sanders wrote.
Since 2010, Congress has cut Social Security’s operating budget by 16 percent in inflated-adjusted dollars. Senate Republicans want to cut it by another 4 percent next year. Nationally, these budget cuts have resulted in the loss of more than 10,000 employees, the closing of 64 field offices and reduced hours in many others. In Vermont, one field office has seen staffing fall by almost 30 percent.
Over the same period, Sanders wrote, “the number of people receiving old age and survivors benefits increased by 17 percent, and disability insurance beneficiaries increased by 5 percent.”
“The simple fact is that fewer staff are being asked to do more work, and this is having a serious impact on worker morale and customer service,” Sanders wrote.
Nationally, it is taking much longer for people to get routine appointments at Social Security field offices. It is also harder to get through to SSA’s toll-free hotline, and nearly half of all callers last year hung-up before connecting because they were on hold for so long. It is also taking longer to make decisions on applications for disability benefits.
Sanders said the amount requested for Social Security operational funding would “bring staffing back up to a level needed to provide adequate customer service for the tens of millions of Americans who routinely communicate with and depend on the agency.”
These funds support core administrative activities including processing retirement and disability claims, conducting hearings to review disability determination appeals, issuing Social Security numbers and cards and processing individuals’ annual earnings information.
To read Sanders’ letter, click here.