Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The stealth attack on Social Security

The less you earn, the more important role Social Security plays in keeping you out of poverty
Recently, I went to my Social Security office. I know just how important this program has been to keeping people out of poverty. But I was dismayed when I arrived and was greeted by long lines, outdated bureaucracy and less-than-stellar customer service.

It's hard for the Social Security Staff to provide quick service when the office is open less than 30 hours per week. It's hard for the program to function when it receives less funding than it requested for 14 of the last 16 years, let alone modernize. And it's hard to give good customer service when the staff has been cut by over 8,000 people over the last 20 years.

That Social Security is under attack is not news. The battle over Chained CPI and how it affects benefits has been well reported.  But a far more subtle, and nefarious, attack on Social Security is taking place outside of the media glare. According to Reuters "It's aimed at undermining Social Security through systematic budget cutting by Congress of the operating budget of the SSA, the agency charged with providing customer service to the public."

Administrative costs only represent 1.4 percent of the Social Security Administration's budget. But cutting those costs has very real effects on beneficiaries. For example, the program to mail annual statements got slashed by $70 million. You are now forced to view your annual statement online, and if you don't have a computer, too bad. These statements are important to remind citizens of the benefits they earned. But only 6 percent of all American workers have signed up on the SSA website to view them.

Cuts to Social Security Administration staff places people who live in rural parts of the country at a serious disadvantage. It also puts pressure on the staff. When visitors to field offices endured 30 percent longer waits in 2013 than the previous year, that strained an already overburdened staff and raised tensions at the office.

Social Security is an integral part of our society. We need to make sure it keeps on working -- well.
                                                                                            --Teamster Dan