A Voluntary Buyout, Possible Layoffs, Could Curtail Services for 61 Million Americans
Retirees may have to wait longer to complete the paperwork to receive Social Security benefits because Trump is offering early retirement to workers at the Social Security Administration.
About 15,000 of the agency’s 62,000 employees would qualify or about 1 in four employees.
Marilyn Zahm, the president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, said the agency is already understaffed. The agency has about 10% fewer employees than it did in 2011. The agency has a backlog of about 1.1 million disability claims.
“People wait two years for a hearing,” Zahm said. “That is not good public service.”
The early retirement program at the Social Security Administration is part of Trump’s goal to shrink the federal workforce. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department are also offering retirement incentives.
“We are disappointed that at a time when the agency is already underfunded and understaffed, SSA is continuing to offer inducements for senior staffers to retire early,” Max Richtman, the president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, wrote in a column for The Hill. “With demand for its services growing, the agency needs more experienced manpower, not less.”
Employees at the Social Security Administration must be at least 50 years old with 20 years of working at the agency or have 25 years of service and be any age to take early retirement. Administrative law judges are not eligible. Fifty-eight employees had taken early retirement as of Thursday, said Social Security spokeswoman Dorothy Clark. Employees who want to take early retirement must leave by Sept. 1. Pressure to make cuts could grow because Trump’s budget for the 2018 fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1 would force reductions in staff if adopted by Congress.
Old-age and disability payments are expected to top $1 trillion for the first time in 2018. The agency’s expected funding for administrative expenses in fiscal 2018 is almost $12.5 billion, a decrease of about $300 million when adjusted for inflation, but an incredible bargain for citizens. That’s half the actual overhead of Apple Inc., the most valuable U.S. corporation, which spends 11% of its revenues on operating expenses.
About 61 million people, or more than one in six U.S. residents, received Social Security benefits in June. Two-thirds of seniors depend on Social Security for most of their income. One-third of seniors rely on it for at least 90% of their income.
Earlier cuts at the agency under former President Barack Obama led to field offices being closed and longer hold times for people calling for help. The hold time is expected to rise to almost 21 minutes in fiscal 2018, up from more than 16 minutes now.
The Social Security Administration has been without a Senate-confirmed commissioner since 2013. The current acting director is Nancy Berryhill.