Andrew Saul, commissioner of Social Security, wrote to key members of Congress to raise awareness of the resources Social Security needs to recover from the ongoing pandemic and improve service.
“Since becoming commissioner, I have focused our actions and our resources on efforts to improve the service we provide to the millions of people who turn to us for help. I have been clear in my budget requests about what it takes to improve service and maintain the integrity of our programs: both additional frontline staff to help people now, and information technology investments to improve our future,” said Saul. “This is a critical year to shape the agency for post-pandemic success, but our resource constraints will delay our recovery. I appreciate President Biden’s support of our needs with his FY 2022 budget request of nearly $14.2 billion for us, which is $1.3 billion more than what we received this year to operate our agency. No one anticipated the duration of the pandemic and the ongoing challenges it presents.
"Our FY 2021 annual appropriation was nearly $900 million less than my original request" Saul wrote. "It is effectively level with the funding we have received for each of the last four years, despite significant increases in costs that we do not control – such as the government-wide pay increases."
Saul pointed out the pandemic has resulted in unprecedented changes. To protect the public and its employees, Social Security has limited in-person service to critical situations. While the administration continues to serve the public over the phone and online, it is still experiencing issues receiving and verifying documents and medical evidence needed to make decisions, Saul wrote.
The operational challenges have been aggravated by its inability to fully use the program integrity funding Saul wrote.
During the pandemic, complex workloads often require multiple contacts with a beneficiary, which slows the administration's ability to complete this work.
"Since becoming commissioner, I have focused our actions and our resources on efforts to improve the service we provide to the millions of people who turn to us for help," Saul wrote. "I have been clear in my budget requests about what it takes to improve service and maintain the integrity of our programs: both additional frontline staff to help people now, and information technology investments to improve our future.
Saul said he has frozen hiring in non-frontline positions so that the administration can push all available resources to the offices that directly serve the public. Staffing has been increased in field offices.
The administration has explored all possibilities to eliminate the budget shortfall but is unable to overcome it, Saul wrote.
The number of pending actions in the processing centers will grow from about 3.7 million actions pending at the end of fiscal year 2020 to more than 4.2 million actions pending by the end of fiscal year 2021 Sasul wrote. It will delay plans to eliminate the backlog of cases in the DDS, which currently has about 20% more pending cases than prior to the pandemic, he wrote.
"The pandemic has changed the way we do work at SSA in unprecedented ways," Sasul wrote. The pandemic required necessary operating adjustments to safely serve the public, reducing the ability to complete the workloads and contributing to increased backlogs and wait times in some priority service areas.
Saul thanked President Biden’s budget request of nearly $14.2 billion for the administration, which is $1.3 billion more than last year. He asked Congress to consider these challenges and support his request to help improve service.