Republicans push cuts to Social Security, jump in wait time expected

WASHINGTON (PAI) – Federal worker unions and congressional Democrats are protesting large cuts in Social Security staffing and funding for the nation’s premiere program for the elderly and the disabled. And so is the acting chief of Social Security itself.

The cuts, in the GOP-written versions of the money bills for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services – which includes Social Security – and Education, would result in waiting times of more than a year and a half for disability claimants and even longer waiting times than the current three weeks for regular Social Security service, they add.

Whether Congress’ ruling Republicans will listen to the workers or the Democrats is unknown. The Labor-HHS money bill is always last on agenda and one of the most controversial, as right wingers try to load it with social issue-oriented “rider” amendments.

President Barack Obama proposed spending $11.1 billion to run Social Security’s programs in the year starting Oct. 1. That’s $522 million more than this year. Obama says the increase is needed as the number of beneficiaries grows thanks to retirement of the baby boomers. The GOP majority on the House Labor-HHS subcommittee eliminated all of Obama’s hike and $250 million besides. The Senate subcommittee killed Obama’s increase and $60 million more.

That drew outrage from the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents Social Security’s workers. The administrative money, it notes, does not come from payroll taxes or Social Security’s trust fund, but it’s needed for Social Security’s services. Even just keeping this year’s funding would produce an agency-wide hiring freeze and other cuts, such as closing more Social Security field offices, AFGE’s fact sheet says.

“Last year, Social Security field offices received more than 28 million calls and assisted 41 million visitors. Yet, SSA field offices have lost about 2,000 employees,” AFGE points out.

“In 2017, SSA expects a record number of beneficiaries due to the peak of baby boomers filing for benefits. Service delays cause difficulties for our most vulnerable citizens, including veterans, who are at an increased risk of both homelessness and disability. Appointment delays for those who just lost a loved one often cause an undue hardship for those who desperately wait for income replacement.”

The Democrats weren’t happy, either.

“The bill breaks our promise to seniors by cutting the operating budget for Medicare by $881 million, and cutting the operating budget for Social Security by $264 million,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., top Democrat on the House panel.

“This is mind boggling at a time when baby boomers are just beginning to enter the Medicare system. Millions of seniors and low-income families rely on benefits from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – but this bill slashes more than $1.1 billion from the agencies that manage those vital services,” she said.

Photo: Demonstrators form a symbolic chain July 2, 2013, in Philadelphia. Matt Rourke | AP


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