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Social Security in line for half-billion dollar cut in House GOP funding bill

Republican appropriators blamed “reduced in-person staffing” at headquarters to slash the already overworked and under-resourced agency’s budget.

House GOP appropriators have proposed a $450 million cut to the Social Security Administration’s administrative budget, in a move that Democrats warn will worsen the agency’s customer service crisis.

The cuts are tucked into the fiscal 2025 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies spending bill, which was advanced to the full House Appropriations Committee Thursday following of a subcommittee markup on the measure.

As part of committee Republicans’ summary of the spending bill, they described the cuts as “reducing funding for Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Social Security Administration offices due to reduced in-person staffing,” linking the budget to Republicans’ perception of elevated telework usage at the agency and in government more broadly.

According to the House GOP funding bill, SSA’s share of the taxes and fees that go toward retirement and disability benefits would decrease from $14.2 billion in fiscal 2024 to $13.7 billion in fiscal 2025. The difference is even more stark compared to the Biden administration’s budget proposal of $15.4 billion in administrative overhead for the agency in fiscal 2025.

Democrats on the committee blasted Republicans’ funding plans for SSA, warning that the fiscal roadmap would lead to shuttered field offices and longer wait times for all customer-facing metrics, including retirement claims, disability decisions and teleservice center queues.

“The majority’s cuts to the Social Security Administration would mean closings and shorter operating hours at SSA field offices and longer processing and wait times for seniors and those with disabilities,” said House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., at Thursday’s markup.

For decades, the Social Security Administration’s administrative funding was non-discretionary, set each year at 1.2% of benefit outlays via retirement and later disability payments. But the George W. Bush administration pulled the agency into the annual discretionary appropriations process, at which point funding leveled off, all while the number of beneficiaries continued to rise. By fiscal 2024, that ratio of overhead expenses to benefits had shrunk to 0.95%.

Jessica LaPointe, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 220, said cuts on the order of those proposed in the House bill would be a death blow to a workforce that is still struggling under crushing workloads, even after a number of small improvements instituted since Commissioner Martin O’Malley joined the agency last December.

“We’re already at a breaking point,” she said. “We’re very concerned about these latest cuts, which we consider to be a tax on federal workers, retirees, and disabled people across the country. We’ve already seen an office in southeast Cleveland that needs to close its doors due to understaffing. These cuts would contribute to further understaffing, and amounts to a cut of about 3,300 work-years, or agency full time equivalents.”

In enacted, LaPointe said SSA would be hamstrung in its effort to recover from its recent 27-year staffing nadir, and could lead to more field office closures because the agency can’t afford to maintain rent payments. Meanwhile, service backlogs will grow, and agency employees will continue to flee.

“Workers are feeling attacked by these cuts,” she said. “It’s disrespectful not to give us the resources we need to serve the public. We’re experiencing extremely high levels of stress as our caseloads are out of control and ever-mounting. The public is calling upset about delays and wondering what the status is on their applications or when they’ll get appointments. That trauma builds on a worker, even as they work through their lunch breaks—illegally—and as the stress takes them away from their families. We’re in the middle of a mental health crisis, and Congress is abandoning us.”