Friday, April 8, 2011

Social Security workers take budget concerns to the streets

The clock is ticking toward a partial federal government shutdown.

Unless Congress can come up with a budget agreement by this weekend, federal offices – including the Social Security Administration (SSA) office in Alexandria – could be closed on Monday.

To call attention to that fact, workers staged an "informational picket" outside the Alexandria office at 1103 Broadway on Wednesday.

They held signs saying:

"Keep SSA Working for You!"

"Stop the Budget Cuts!"

"Furloughs = Poor Service"

"Waiting Times Will Increase If We're Not Here"

"I Am a Proud Public Employee"

The sign carriers included current union members, former SSA employees and a family member.

It's the second time in about a month the workers have taken their message to the streets. They also picketed on March 2 just days before Congress approved a stop-gap funding measure.

Now that money is running out.

The possible shutdown is described as "partial" because essential federal workers would stay on the job, including the military, FBI agents and Coast Guard workers. Social Security payments would still go out and the mail would be delivered.

SSA workers have the same worries as before. They believe House Republicans' proposal to reduce the SSA's operating budget by $1.7 billion for the rest of the fiscal year would have a devastating impact on the services provided to seniors, the disabled and the families who have lost a parent or spouse.

If the proposal is included in a new "Continuing Resolution" for 2011, the budget cuts would lead to a month of furloughs at the SSA, according to the union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

The Alexandria workers were among thousands of Social Security employees to hold pickets across the country. AFGE represents 60,000 Social Security workers and more than 600,000 employees in the federal government.

Clint Tuorila, a claims representative in the Alexandria SSA office, said Wednesday's picket was designed to show the public what is at stake – and how people who rely on the SSA would be affected.

The Alexandria SSA helps 21,192 people in its service area receive more than $3.8 million in monthly benefits, Tuorila said.

If the cuts are approved, it would lead to longer waits for benefits, he said. It would create a backlog for those with pending disability claims. The wait for hearings would also be longer. Those calling the SSA's toll-free number could also expect long delays, Tuorila said.

The SSA is already operating under a partial hiring freeze because of the current Continuing Resolution, which is likely to result in nearly 3,500 lost jobs for 2011.

Tuorila provided information of what would happen nationwide if Social Security offices would shut down for one month:

• 400,000 people would not have their retirement, survivors, and Medicare applications processed this year, resulting in a large backlog of unprocessed retirement and survivor claims for the first time in SSA history.

• 290,000 people would not have their initial disability benefit applications processed, which means disabled workers, who already wait months for their applications to be processed, will wait an average of 30 days longer.

• 70,000 fewer people will get a disability appeals hearing this year, which means workers waiting to present an appeal to a judge, who already wait over a year, will wait longer.

• There would be 32,000 fewer continuing disability reviews.

Facts about SSA offices in the region

There are 17 Social Security field offices in Minnesota with approximately 491 employees. Generally, there are three types of positions in each office – claims representatives, service representatives, and clericals. Claims representatives interview SSA applicants and process their claims for retirement, survivor, disability, and SSI benefits. Service representatives assist SSA clients with Medicare matters, address changes, record corrections and Social Security card applications. The clerical positions provide a variety of clerical and reception assistance.


No comments: