Social Security Commissioner Kenneth S. Apfel Expresses Concern
About The Agency’s Ability To Serve The Public With
Funding Levels Under Continuing Resolutions
All of us at the Social Security Administration (SSA) take great pride in our ability to provide the highest quality service to the American public. But to honor our service commitments to workers, the elderly and people with disabilities, Congress must act now to provide the resources we need to do our job.
Currently, for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2001, SSA is operating under a 16th short-term Continuing Resolution (CR). This deadline-to-deadline method of funding has effectively reduced our spending rate by more than $300 million when compared to the President’s budget request and $500 million less than the budget I submitted for the Social Security Administration under the requirement of law.
Operating under an environment of tight Continuing Resolution funding restrictions through the first few months of this year has meant a complete freeze on hiring, little overtime to compensate for staffing shortages and severe limits on any discretionary spending which does not contribute directly to our immediate public service needs. As a result, we have been barely able to keep pace with our most important work as we lose some 300 employees a month without hiring and training their replacements. In addition, critical technology investments, which enable us to keep up with rapidly increasing workloads and expand and improve service to the public, have been postponed. This all means that we are moving in the wrong direction and our customers, the American public, are being adversely affected.
With the current FY 2001 Continuing Resolution scheduled to expire on December 5, it is unclear whether Congress will enact our annual appropriation, another short-term CR or a Continuing Resolution of longer duration. As time passes, the situation will only grow worse.
Given this uncertainty, we have been forced to lower our performance expectations as follows for several major SSA workloads:
- Initial disability claims processed will decline from 2 million in FY 2000 to 1.8 million in FY 2001. Each month, SSA will process nearly 17,000 fewer disability claims than it did last year. Claimants with disabilities will wait, on average, two months longer for a decision.
- Access rates for our national 800 number will decline from 93% in FY 2000 to 85% in FY 2001. This means that, each week, nearly 200,000 calls to SSA’s 800 number will go unanswered.
- Supplemental Security Income re-determinations of eligibility will decrease from 2.2 million in FY 2000 to 1.7 million in FY 2001. This means that SSA will complete nearly 500,000 fewer re-determinations of eligibility for the SSI program than it did last year, at a cost to the taxpayer of some $400 million over the next 7 years.
In its 65-year history, the Social Security Administration has worked hard to maintain a high level of public confidence in the management of America’s most successful domestic program. It is imperative that adequate full-year funding be provided soon, since it will become increasingly difficult to reverse the impact of current restrictions. I urge Congress to forego further Continuing Resolutions and provide funding for the balance of the year when it reconvenes on December 5. Inaction is hurting some of our most vulnerable citizens, the elderly and those with disabilities.
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