Washington, D.C. – The Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced that due to significant cuts in its operating budget, starting on August 15, field offices will begin closing to the public half an hour early, and will shut down for the entire day on Nov. 25. In a letter sent to Members of Congress late last week, the agency wrote in part:
“[A] field office that is usually open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. will now close daily at 3:30 p.m. Reducing hours will allow our field office employees, who will continue to work their regular hours, to complete face-to-face service activities like interviews without using overtime. In fiscal year 2011, our budget was reduced by nearly $1 billion. This shortfall has made it very difficult to provide the amount of overtime that our usual business process requires. Field offices have lost nearly 1,600 workers over the past nine months, and we cannot afford to replace that staff. As a small measure to help deal with those losses, we will close field offices to the public on Friday, November 25, 2011.”
“Instead of going after wasteful spending or the actual causes of the current deficit, House Republicans are slashing Social Security to pay the bill for two wars and the Bush tax cuts for multi-millionaires,” Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in response. “Social Security is separately funded from other programs and has never – repeat, never – contributed a single penny to the national debt. Gutting it, now or ever, is a horrible idea that only hurts Arizonans and the American people.”
There were 110,011 Social Security recipients in Arizona as of December 2010, including 18,785 in Pima County; 1,128 in Yuma County; 1,260 in Santa Cruz County; 54,867 in Maricopa County; and 469 in La Paz County.
The SSA appropriation for 2011 ($11.4 billion) is $1 billion lower than the agency’s request. Even after SSA drains its reserve fund, the agency will have a lower operating budget for 2011 than it did for 2010. The SSA has already had to take a number of drastic steps due to budget cuts:
- It canceled the opening of 8 new hearing offices which would have helped reduce waiting times for disabled applicants who need a hearing before a judge (currently over a year).
- It is closing the National Case Assistance Center (which assisted with processing appeals) this year.
- It has postponed indefinitely the opening of a new teleservice center in Tennessee.
- It has stopped mailing out the Social Security Statement, which shows workers their projected future benefits and allows them to make sure their earnings are being correctly recorded so that future benefit amounts will be correct.
- It is severely cutting investments in information technology that would improve future productivity.
- It has discontinued over 300 remote service sites, where people who cannot easily get to a regular SSA field office can meet with SSA personnel to file claims and resolve their problems.