February 20, 2024
Hundreds of AFGE leaders and activists gathered in Washington, D.C. last week for the union’s annual legislative conference.
Social Security Administration employees have always showed up to serve the American people rain or shine, and that’s exactly what they did last week when they gathered on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. under the rain to sound the alarm on the staffing and funding crisis that would lead to more Americans being denied the benefits they deserve.
“Due to over a decade of congressional underfunding we are now an agency in crisis,” said Jessica LaPointe, president of AFGE Council 220 representing SSA field office employees across the country. “Due to over a decade of congressional underfunding, the union that represents a majority of SSA workers has called you here today to sound the alarm that the Social Security Administration is in a state of emergency. The fabric of America’s social safety net is deteriorated, and you and your loved ones and our nation’s most vulnerable are at risk of falling through.”
SSA is in a state of emergency. Over the last decade Social Security beneficiaries have increased by 25% while SSA’s operating budgets have decreased by 17% (adjusted for inflation) and hiring is down by 50%. By the end of FY 2022 SSA, staffing levels reached a 25-year low. The latest employee viewpoint survey found SSA to be the worst large agency to work for in the federal government. Staff attrition is sky-high as workers leave for better jobs at other agencies and in the private sector.
SSA employees work very hard to serve the American public. According to the Partnership for Public Service, SSA is ranked second overall as the public’s most trustworthy federal agency. SSA employees are vetted with background checks upon entering public service and are fully trained on how to protect the public’s Personal Identifiable Information. Some positions require years of training and experience to reach maximum efficiency.
“It should be no surprise that despite all the best efforts of SSA’s overworked employees, there are growing backlogs in the field, more service delays on the 800 number and long lines at field offices across the country,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley told the crowd. “We are here today to say that enough is enough.”
Kelley is asking Congress to pass a FY 2024 budget with at least $16.5 billion for SSA.
Rich Couture, president of AFGE Council 215 and the union’s chief negotiator with Social Security management, said SSA’s self-taught training model makes employees feel unsupported with new hires unprepared for their duties and ready to leave.
“We have folks leaving the agency because the training stinks,” he said. “I’d use another word, but we’re in polite company, but the training is terrible. The mentoring, based on an agency focus group report we just got last week, it looked like it was written by us, saying all the same things we’ve been saying: There’s not enough time; there’s not enough accommodation to make sure that it actually works. So instead, our folks are telling us, and they’re telling management when they leave, ‘I feel unsupported, I feel unprepared, and I feel set up to fail.’”
Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, an organization that works to protect and expand Social Security benefits, said SSA spends less than a penny of every dollar on administrative cost, which is far more efficient than private sector retirement plans and insurance companies. SSA employees are not appropriately compensated for their efficiency.
She said the money deducted from our paychecks for Social Security funds both the benefits and the administrative cost. Social Security doesn’t add even a penny to the deficit. In fact, it has accumulated a surplus of a $2.8 trillion, according to the most recent trustee report.
“Congress doesn’t appropriate a penny for Social Security. Rather it limits how much of that 2.8 trillion dollars SSA can spend on administration. Yet despite the large surplus, despite SSA’s efficiency, Congress has starved SSA for decades,” said explained.
Altman thanked SSA employees for working tirelessly to serve the American people to help them with their earned benefits.
“At Social Security Works, we fight for the American people, which means fighting for you,” she added. “We are determined to protect and expand Social Security. Expanding Social Security includes expanding field offices, expanding the workforce, increasing your pay and your benefits.”
Members of Congress spoke at the rally in support of SSA employees and the work they do. Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., said SSA staffing needs to be increased so that the agency can do its job.
“Congress has been negligent,” he said. “It’s been more than 52 years since we’ve enhanced the Social Security program.”
Larson is the lead sponsor of Social Security 2100, a bill that would, among other things, provide an across-the-board benefit increase for all recipients and protect the Social Security Trust Fund by asking those making more than $400,000 a year to finally pay their fair share.
Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., said what we’re supposed to be doing is seeing the world through the eyes of the most vulnerable. He blasted members of congress who call working people bureaucrats.
“Federal employees serve the American people and make sure our programs come to life,” he said.
Also speaking at the rally were AFGE National Vice President for District 14 Ottis Johnson, AFGE Council 215 President Rich Couture, Council 220 New York Regional Vice President Angela Digeronimo, Council 220 Chicago Regional Vice President Amber Westbrook, and Council 220 1st Vice President Edwin Osorio, and Local 2809 1st Vice President Iris Rakowski.
AFGE members braved the cold last week to call on Congress to fully fund the government and give them the 7.4% raise they deserve.
We are happy to announce that Joshua McCue from Fort Walker is AFGE’s Firefighter of the Year!