The public, AFGE members, and Social Security Administration (SSA) employees received good news in the $1.1 trillion ‘CRomnibus’ package that keeps the government running through September 2015:
A minimum of $100 million in new funding for administrative costs and the possibility of $200 million more based on language in the bill limiting SSA spending on Program Integrity (or fraud reduction) activities.
AFGE members have been working hard for these measures to save field offices all year.
Although other individual pieces of legislation did not make it to a final vote, many of the important rules and ideas will be implemented through the funding bill. AFGE members strongly supported passage of legislation introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer and as well as Reps. Brian Higgins and Bruce Braley that addressed the issues ultimately included in the funding bill at the urging of AFGE and the Social Security Council 220.
The language in the bill states that the SSA Commissioner must provide an opportunity for the public and other affected parties to weigh in on any community office closings, consolidations or cuts in operating hours. Impact studies must also be conducted if plans move forward to shutter an office, with particular emphasis on how it would impact at-risk populations. The agency is required to follow strict timetables for notifying the public of office closures and must allow for a public comment period.
The CRomnibus also makes a commitment to services around Benefit Verifications letters and social security number printouts. The Commissioner is directed to ‘ensure the maximum amount of flexibility’ in helping people verify their social security numbers at the field offices – a service that was eliminated earlier this summer at most field offices.
Finally, the agreement includes sufficient resources for SSA to resume mailing Social Security Statements, and to otherwise increase the number of individuals viewing and receiving their statement annually, in accordance with its plan submitted to Congress in March 2014.
The rules and money designated for SSA in the funding bill recognize the key role that field offices play in communities and that beneficiaries use their Social Security numbers in key life decisions that could impact their long term well-being.