On March 1, 2013, automatic budget cuts will be made across the board in our federal government. You may have heard the word “sequester” in the news lately, which is the term for these automatic budget cuts. The cuts only apply to discretionary spending, and not to mandatory spending. Mandatory spending includes the monthly amount you are paid for disability, retirement, unemployment, food share or Medicaid. The delivery of checks should not be interrupted. However, the cuts will have an impact on the Social Security Administration’s day-to-day functioning and will mean different things for different people who are currently receiving benefits or are in the process of applying for SSDI/SSI benefits.
The Social Security Administration is facing an 8% budget cut totaling $11.5 billion. Former Commissioner, Michael J. Astrue estimated 5000 positions would be cut, 1500 temporary employees would be terminated and all overtime would be eliminated. These cuts will create more backlog, longer waits and reduced hours.
Although SSA has already started opening their doors later and closing them sooner, sequestration would likely leave us with even more limited hours. Currently, most offices are open from 9 AM to 3 PM Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and from 9AM until noon on Wednesdays. With the budget cuts, these hours would be further reduced. It is also likely that entire office locations would be forced to close, making it more difficult for people to get to an office in person. Wait times on the phone or in the office will increase with more limited hours and limited staff expected to handle the same amount of claimant traffic.
Furloughs, or days where the admiration is not open, are also a possibility, as they would save SSA $25 million a day. Not only would phone lines and offices not be open, hearing offices would be forced to close, meaning Administrative Law Judges would not be able to hear claims. Approximately 3000 ALJ hearings are held each day across the country. The potential for backlog if furloughs are needed is certain. The budget cuts will lead to more backlog within Social Security. For you, that means longer waiting times. It is estimated an initial application will take two weeks longer to process and waiting for a hearing could take up to a month longer than current estimates. If you are already receiving SSDI or SSI benefits, the changes will likely have little impact on you. However, if you are just beginning the application process, or appealing a denial, you can expect to spend more time waiting and more frustration in dealing with SSA.
- Letter from Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, to Senator Barbara Mikulski, Chairwoman, Committee on Appropriations (Feb 7, 2013).
- White House Press Secretary, Fact Sheet: Examples of How the Sequester Would Impact Middle Class Families, Jobs and Economic Security (Feb. 8, 2013) http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/08/fact-sheet-examples-how-sequester-would-impact-middle-class-families-job.
- John Fritz, Social Security braces for budget cuts, frustrated public, The Baltimore Sun (Feb. 25, 2013)http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-02-25/news/bs-md-sequester-ssa-20130225_1_budget-cuts-sequestration-witold-skwierczynski.