NATIONAL COUNCIL OF SOCIAL SECURITY MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATIONS
National Council of
Social Security Management Associations
SSA’s Budget Needs
Thursday, April 7, 2016
SSA’s budget situation changes from year to year. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 and FY 2015, SSA had fairly positive budgets as the agency had virtually unlimited overtime and after a more than three year hiring freeze, the agency was finally able to do some hiring. While the budget situation may often look positive on the surface, a close examination reveals areas of need.
It is because of these areas of need that the President’s FY 2017 budget request is a 7.75% increase (over $900 million) above the FY 2016 enacted level. One of the biggest needs relates to SSA’s system. Reduced budgets in recent years have led to a situation where SSA’s system responsiveness is slow, as there isn’t enough capacity to quickly move all of the traffic.
While SSA’s internet applications are by and large written with new software, the existing legacy systems like MCS, MSSICS, and RPS are built on old software. There is an extensive list of legacy applications that need to be upgraded. This wish list is like getting onto the waiting list for Green Bay Packers season tickets; 81,000 names and you may get called in about 30 years!
The President’s FY 2017 budget request calls for a $352 million increase in SSA’s systems budget. The budget request also asks for additional funding of $300 million over the next four years to modernize SSA’s systems, including replacing the agency’s 60 million lines of COBOL code and the complex business rules that go with it. Few colleges now teach COBOL coding, and SSA must train newly hired programmers.
SSA also has growing workloads. The agency is now seeing a surge in baby boomers contacting SSA. Much of this workload-increase results in requests to the Program Service Centers (PSCs). The PSCs have nearly 3 million cases pending, of which nearly 50% are over 90 days old. Many of the visitors coming into SSA’s field offices are asking about cases pending in the PSCs. This is one reason why we have already had 1.34 million more visitors this fiscal year to date, compared to the same period last year.
Meanwhile, in the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) the number of pending cases has gone up 36 months in succession and is now at a record 1.14 million cases. An average hearing is now taking a record setting 535 days for a decision.
SSA is also expected to increase the number of medical Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) by 250,000 (pushing the agency up to 1.1 million) next fiscal year and increase the number of SSI Redeterminations the agency completes by 300,000. The President’s FY 2017 budget request calls for a $300 million increase to address these workloads with nearly 3,000 more work years.
The last third of the increased funding requested for next fiscal year is to address inflationary increases for salaries, benefits, rent, security, space, etc.
Even though last year’s budget agreement provided an additional $30 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2017, some on Capitol Hill are looking to scrap these spending levels, or at the very least offset the increase with cuts to mandatory spending over the next two years. We also don’t know at this time what the various appropriations subcommittee allocations will be. It’s safe to assume that competition for funding in the Labor Health and Human Services, and Related Agencies Subcommittee will be fierce. The odds that SSA’s Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE) account will receive a 7.75% increase are probably not the best.
The need for increased funding is justified. SSA’s services are vital to millions of Americans. SSA has a proven track record of being very efficient. Hopefully Congress will see the critical need for increased funding for SSA.
By Rick Warsinskey