Statement by Dr. Shirley Charter,
Commissioner of Social Security,

February 21, 1996

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit a statement for the record addressing the effect that the absence of a budget agreement is having on the Social Security Administration.

I believe this Committee recognizes the important role the Social Security Administration plays in the lives of millions of Americans. The funding level approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee for FY 1996 attests to this; in the current environment, it represents a substantial commitment to the agency. At the $5.7 billion level approved by the full House and your Committee for SSA's administrative base, SSA would be able to avoid the deterioration in service that would occur from continued operation at the current rate.

Given the service demands on federal agencies today, it is critical that we do not slow up our aggressive automation plan for the agency. Although your Committee did not approve as high a level of funding for our automation efforts as the House, your actions demonstrate a commitment to our plan, which offers the best avenue for providing higher levels of service at lower costs in the future.

Service Deterioration at Current Funding Levels

In the absence of a budget agreement, SSA has managed to operate under the current rate provided in the continuing resolution by implementing a nearly total hiring freeze of federal and state positions, leaving the agency unable to replace significant losses in critical areas; severely restricting overtime to critical health and safety needs and only the highest priority disability and hearings workloads; delaying contracts and deferring purchases of supplies and equipment. These actions have enabled us to operate at the current rate so far, but they will have long term consequences if SSA is forced to continuat the current rate for the year. For example:

  • Disability applicants will wait an additional month beyond their current wait of almost three months for a response to their initial disability application; applicants who request a hearing will wait at least 12 months. This eliminates the progress we could be making at your Committee's funding level;
  • Access to SSA's 800 number will be reduced because of our inability to replace staff losses and reductions in overtime, resulting in a reduction in answering capacity of more than two million calls;
  • More than two million actions related to work SSA performs after beneficiaries become entitled to benefits, such as recomputing benefits for individuals who continue to work, or processing their overpayments, will backlog;
  • SSA will not be able to fill vacancies in local offices, creating critical gaps in service; as many as I ,000 federal and state positions would be left vacant;
  • SSA's modernization efforts for field offices and hearing offices will slip, delaying installation of new systems equipment and technology by a minimum of one year;
  • SSA's new Office of Inspector General, cr ated now that SSA is an independent agency, will not be able cover investigations and handle the full scope of investigative work for all parts of the country, such as following up on cases if fraud is discovered by SSA offices or outside sources.

Furloughs and Office Closings at Reductions Below Current Levels

All of this will occur if our funding is maintained for the rest of the year at the current rate specified in the continuing resolution which expires March 15. The question of the impact of a 10 to 15 percent reduction from the current rate has been asked. The impact on SSA would be devastating to our employees and the public we serve.

A reduction of 10 percent from the current rate would mean furloughs for all of SSA's federal and state employees for 35 to 40 days. A 15 percent reduction would mean a 50 to 55 day furlough for federal and state SSA employees. We could be forced to close down all of our office.including field offices, hearing offices, teleservice centers, headquarters and processing centers, from April through September for one to two days per week. The workload backlogs and service deterioration resulting from this would be unprecedented.

Let me say once again that Iappreciate the ongoing support this Committee provides to the Social Security Administration's programs, its employees, and the public we serve. Iwould urge you to consider the consequences outlined in this testimony as the Congress deliberates the next steps in providing FY 1996 funding. Thank you for the opportunity to provide my views on this important Issue.