WASHINGTON, June 27 – Following reports that the wait for a Social Security disability appeals decision reached an all-time high of more than 600 days, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.) introduced legislation Wednesday to give the Social Security Administration the funds necessary to restore timely service to beneficiaries.
Social Security has played a fundamental role in the lives of hundreds of millions of hardworking Americans; however, since 1970, funding to administer Social Security programs has decreased 34 percent per beneficiary, adjusting for inflation. The Social Security Administration’s budget has declined 9 percent since 2010, while the number of beneficiaries has gone up more than 15 percent. This has resulted in the loss of more than 10,000 employees, as well as the closure of all rural contact centers and more than 10 percent of all field offices nationwide.
These funding cuts have had an unconscionable human cost – last year alone, 10,000 people died and thousands more lost their homes or declared bankruptcy while waiting on a disability decision.
“Social Security is the most successful government program ever, but it can’t work for Vermonters if it doesn’t have adequate staff to answer the phones, meet with applicants and process claims. We must reject Republicans’ efforts to cut and privatize Social Security, and instead ensure that all seniors and people with disabilities receive the benefits they have earned and deserve in a timely manner,” Sanders said.
“In order to serve its beneficiaries, the Social Security Administration needs an operational budget that keeps up with the demands the program is facing. Consider that 10,000 Baby Boomers become eligible for Social Security a day and that for the past decade, Social Security’s budget has remained severely underfunded. These are benefits that American workers have paid for and earned with every paycheck – they have earned the right to better service. I applaud Senator Sanders for his leadership and for our work together to ensure Social Security offices remain open and responsive to its beneficiaries, and that cruel waiting periods for the severely disabled are eliminated,” said Larson.
Sanders and Larson’s legislation would address the 1 million-person disability backlog, speed up the time it takes for seniors and persons with disabilities to receive Social Security and Medicare benefits and prevent the Social Security Administration from closing field offices that provide essential services to the American people.
To do so, the bill would set the Social Security’s administrative funding at 1.5 percent of overall benefit payments, eliminate the five-month waiting period for approved Social Security disability recipients and the two-year waiting period for disability beneficiaries to qualify to receive Medicare, and implement a moratorium on all closures of field offices and contact stations.
As the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders proposed and secured a $480 million increase in the Social Security Administration’s operating budget in the recent omnibus. But even with that increase in funding, Social Security’s operating budget is still nearly $600 million lower today, adjusting for inflation, than it was in 2009 while the number of Americans receiving Social Security has gone up by nearly 10 million.
In addition to Sanders and Larson, co-sponsors of the bill are Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
The legislation was endorsed by AFGE, AFL-CIO, Alliance for Retired Americans, Center for Medicare Advocacy, Justice in Aging, Medicare Rights Center, National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, National Council of Social Security Management Associations, National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives, Social Security Works, Special Needs Alliance, Strengthen Social Security Coalition and The Arc.