How Biden’s budget plan could improve Social Security customer service

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President Joe Biden’s 2022 budget could give the Social Security Administration a $1.3 billion — or 9.7% — increase in funding.

In total, the President calls for $14.2 billion for the agency for the 2022 financial year.

The proposed increase comes as the Social Security Administration plans to pay more than $1.2 trillion in Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits to more than 74 million recipients in 2022.

If approved, the extra money could help the administration improve a key area – customer service – as it regroups after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The money would allow the Social Security Administration to continue a host of improvement efforts, Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul said in the overview of the agency’s budget.

Among the areas the administration would address are wait times and backlogs, community outreach to vulnerable populations and technology upgrades, he said.

“The president’s budget will allow us to begin to recover from the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic, building on the lessons we’ve learned to become a stronger, more responsive agency,” Saul said.

An advocacy group – the National Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare – says more money would be crucial to help improve the administration’s ability to serve current beneficiaries and claimants. benefits.

“Our long-standing concern is that customer service just hasn’t kept up with the pace it should,” said Dan Adcock, director of government relations and policy at the National Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and health insurance.

Legacy issues to fix

The group’s concerns about Social Security customer service date back to before the pandemic, according to Adcock.

Among the issues people are facing are long waits on the Social Security Administration’s 800 number, a backlog of disability insurance cases being reviewed, and the closure of many field offices.

While the Covid pandemic has exacerbated these issues, Biden’s proposed funding could help alleviate these concerns.

The money could help reduce the backlog of hearings, bringing the average annual processing time for a decision to 270 days in fiscal year 2022 from 386 days in fiscal year 2020, according to estimates from the Social Security Administration.

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It could also help increase the number of initial disability claims processed by 720,000 – to 2,757,000 in fiscal year 2022 from 2,037,000 in fiscal year 2020.

Wait times for 800 numbers could also drop to 12 minutes in 2022 from 16 minutes in 2020.

Ultimately, it is up to Congress to approve the funding requested by Biden.

There should be a lot of support for it on the Hill because of a Democratic majority, Adcock said. “We just want to make sure that happens as the credits process moves forward.”

Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., who serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, expressed support.

“President Biden’s Budget Proposal Includes Necessary Increases for Social Security Administration [SSA] to help Americans access the benefits they’ve earned,” Larson said in a press release.

In contrast, former President Donald Trump’s budget proposal last year sought to cut funding for the program.

In March, Saul detailed how the government agency adjusted its services amid the pandemic to emphasize virtual meetings and online services. Some of those changes may continue, he said at the time.

Where would the $14.2 billion go?

More than $5 billion of the proposed $14.2 billion budget would go to payroll costs for front-line workers who work in the administration’s field offices, 800 phone number and treatment centers, according to the Social Security Administration.

Additionally, more than $2.7 billion would be earmarked for disability determinations, including existing staff, new hires, and other expenses at disability determination centers across the state. The administration plans to maintain the 10% headcount increase — or 1,300 additional employees — that it committed in fiscal year 2021.

More than $2.1 billion would finance the modernization of the administration’s IT infrastructure.

Another $1.7 billion would be used to fund the expansion of the disability anti-fraud investigations program, as well as the completion of program integrity reviews.

More than $1.1 billion is planned for the salary costs of employees of the Hearings Division.

In addition, $96 million would be spent on additional outreach for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI benefits. The aim would be to contact vulnerable people who are eligible for benefits, such as adults and children with disabilities, and the homeless.

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