Monday, August 17, 2015

SSA - Picking Fights

Social Security is garnering more national attention these days. As a result the disability program’s problems will inevitably invite more discussion. Michael Hiltzik one of the most informed sources on SSA and SSA disability provides his typically cogent review here. He notes less funding for the agency has resulted in significant service problems. Paul Krugman also notes that the shortfall of disability funding projected for next year is imminently fixable. However with the onset of presidential race, congress has decided to ignore the fix.
The service problems are real:

Diminished staffing for both the retirement and disability program. Since 2000, the number of Social Security field offices fell to 1,245 from 1,350. Hours have been reduced. If you are applying for disability and require an Administrative Law Judge hearing, the national average is now over 500 days. SSA’s goal is 270 days, (Charles Halls' SSA Blog).  Despite alarmist rhetoric, SSA has one of the lowest rates of fraud among any government agency. In the last 5 years more people applying for disability have been denied than in the past. There is no confirmed commissioner of the disability program and even with committed employees, the agency has often has been plagued by a lack of vision and a bunker mentality. The president has admittedly had his hands full for the last 6 years. Still he has failed to make SSA an issue. In addition, were he to apply some of his recent unilateral moxie, a new commissioner for SSA disability and changes in the advisory board could have been implemented years ago. Change bunker mentality to an agency with strong leadership and SSA can do the job.

But not without funding. Most Americans pay into the program through payroll taxes. Once income is over 118 thousand, no payroll taxes are required. Minor tweaks requiring those who earn over 118 thousand dollars a year to pay the taxes would essentially solve the problem, for good. Congress has done this for the last 30+ years. The current Republican presidential candidates (Donald Trump is the exception), propose cutting SSA. Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have long advocated for an increase in benefits – which is both smart and fair.
Congress and the president, or the president elect can provide safety for the elderly and take care of the disabled if a consensus approach is adopted. It is really not complicated. But then politics can take even the most sacred governmental trust and turn it into a pitched battle.