Staffers at the Social Security Administration gathered in Washington, D.C. this summer to protest a staffing and funding crisis at the agency. Employees contend more Americans will be denied benefits due to decades of low funding by Congress. Field office employees from across the country have sounded the alarm to Congress.
Over the last decade Social Security beneficiaries have increased by 25% while SSA’s operating budgets have decreased by 17% and hiring is down by 50 %. By the end of Fiscal Year 2022, staffing levels reached a 25 year low. Employee surveys indicate that SSA is the “worst agency” to work for in the federal government. Workers claim “toxic levels of stress” and “impossible workloads.”
Low staffing results in backlogs of claims, frustrated claimants, overworked employees, long lines at field offices, and unreasonable delays in phone service. Under-funding has led to poor training of new employees. SSA uses a self-taught training manual rather than one-on-one training with personal staff. SSA spends less than a penny of every dollar on administrative costs. Applicants for disability benefits face processing times of more than six months. The agency’s toll free number has wait times in excess of thirty minutes. Wait times at field offices for unscheduled appointments have been as long as three hours.
Officials with the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents SSA field office employees, teleservice centers and other SSA workers states that even a hiring spree in the Spring of 2023 following additional federal funding only offered minimum wage jobs which was insufficient for the complexity and size of the workloads.
The Biden administration fiscal year 2024 budget proposed a 10% increase in funding to help with customer service. SSA employees contend this is not enough. Congress is not funding SSA to the degree required for the staffing that it needs. The advocacy organization Social Security Works argues that 10% more is the bare minimum of funds needed.