Social Security in ‘worst public service crisis in memory,’ union says

The Social Security Administration office in Brownsville, Texas.

Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc | Corbis Historical | Getty Images

Social Security beneficiaries who call the agency’s toll-free number may face hold times of more than 30 minutes.

Long lines and shortened hours are common at many of the agency’s field offices where beneficiaries may seek in-person assistance.

Moreover, applicants for disability benefits face waits of more than six months for decisions from the agency, a panel of experts from the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 40,000 Social Security Administration employees, said Monday.

The service delays facing the program’s approximately 67 million beneficiaries are signs of “an agency in crisis,” according to Rich Couture, Council 215 president at the American Federation of Government Employees.

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The Social Security Administration “is in the midst of the worst public service crisis in memory caused by historic levels of employee attrition due to uncompetitive pay in benefits, exceedingly low employee morale, and overwhelming workloads,” Couture said at a Monday panel hosted by AFGE.

AFGE leaders spoke out about the Social Security Administration’s diminishing services amid funding constraints that have lasted for more than a decade.

White House funding proposal likely not enough

AFGE’s surveys show 76% of Social Security staffers say they have overwhelmingly large workloads that prevent them from performing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Meanwhile, 9 out of 10 workers know someone who has left their job due to overwhelming work-related stress.

Poor employee retention is causing public service to deteriorate, LaPointe said.

“Simply put, other employers offer better pay, benefits, telework and remote work options, upward mobility and support,” LaPointe said.

AFGE’s $17.39 billion budget proposal for 2024 would include 56% for employee salary and benefits, or $9.62 billion; 17% for state Disability Determination Services, or $2.92 billion; 16% for rent, equipment, furnishings, security guards and other items, or $2.75 billion; and 11% for technology, or $1.89 billion.

Beneficiaries deserve a Social Security system that works and that means a fully funded Social Security Administration.

Linda Benesch

communications director at Social Security Works

It would also include $100 million for employee retention pay, $90 million for mailed Social Security statements and $20 million for magnetometers or metal detectors.

Biden’s budget request of 10% more for the Social Security Administration is the “absolute bare minimum that Congress needs to approve for SSA,” Linda Benesch, communications director at advocacy organization Social Security Works, said Monday.

“Beneficiaries deserve a Social Security system that works and that means a fully funded Social Security Administration,” Benesch said.

The Social Security Administration would also benefit if Congress authorized the use some of the money from the agency’s surplus, which totals about $2.8 trillion, Benesch said.

In a report released in September, the Social Security Advisory board, an independent federal government agency, encouraged the Social Security Administration to evaluate the quality and accessibility of its services.

AFGE is slated to soon begin negotiations to pursue changes, including more competitive pay, to help tackle the service delivery crisis, Couture said.

“Each experienced employee lost to attrition means more claims that go unprocessed, calls that go unanswered, and people who aren’t being served by the system they paid into when they need it,” Couture said.

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