Social Security and You: Do You Really Want a Shrunken SSA?
And the disability side is an even bleaker tale. It takes SSA almost three months to process a claim for disability benefits. About 65 percent of those first-time claims are denied, which means there are hundreds of thousands of people who file appeals. Currently, more than 1 million people are waiting for a disability hearing in front of an SSA judge. The average wait time for that hearing is more than 600 days. Those numbers can only get worse as SSA's budget and workforce drop.
And if you think that these Trump cuts will merely be reversing all the growth in government that happened during the Obama years, you're wrong. Between 2010 and 2016, SSA's budget dropped by more than 10 percent. During that same period, its beneficiary base went up by 12 percent and its fixed costs increased by about $300 million each year.
And if you also think that SSA, just like any other government agency, has a bloated administrative budget that could stand some trimming, well, think again. Out of every dollar collected in Social Security taxes, less than one penny goes toward running the agency that maintains earnings records for almost every American and pays monthly benefits to 1 out of every 6 Americans.
When I started working for SSA in the early 1970s, I was one of about 82,000 relatively happy and proud employees working for one of the best-run government agencies. SSA consistently won awards for public service and administrative responsibility. As one of my co-workers always said, "SSA is an honorable institution engaged in a noble public purpose."
Local Social Security offices were well-run, clean and efficient. They were pleasant places to work and pleasant places to visit. I was able to take the time to not only explain complicated Social Security but also to simply chat with people and ask them how their days were going. I always kept in the back of my mind that even though this was just an everyday job for me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the customer I was dealing with.
Unfortunately, now it's a different world and a different SSA. With reduced staff and resources, it's all about numbers, efficiency and time management. You must call to make an appointment and then wait weeks for that appointment. Then when you get to the office, it's "take a number and sit down and wait until you are called." And sadly, the SSA rep you finally get to talk to has neither the training nor the time that I had.
I'm going to stop. I know these are the musings of an aging codger pining for "the good old days" that are simply gone. And certainly they are never going to come back if we continue to cut the budget and gut the staff of an "honorable institution engaged in a noble public purpose."
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.