Sequestration’s Human Effect on Social Security

Sequestration’s mandatory budget cuts are scheduled to take effect on Friday, March 1, 2013. The press has reported that “Social Security will not be affected.” This is not completely accurate. It is true that the payment of benefits will not be affected. However, the sequestration cuts will affect all other aspects of SSA, including the day-to-day operations of the Agency, by reducing SSA’s administrative budget.

According to the SSA Fact Sheet on the effect of sequestration on SSA’s operations, field office and hearing office operations will be impacted, although the timing is not clear. SSA estimated that sequestration will result in longer waits in field offices (average of 30 minutes) and for the 800-number. Pending levels of initial disability claims would rise by over 140,000 claims and would have to wait about two weeks longer for an initial decision. Sequestration would result in the loss of over 5,000 more SSA employees.

At the hearing level, claimants will have to wait nearly a month longer for a hearing decision and the progress in reducing the hearings backlog would be eroded. While SSA will try to prioritize reductions to avoid furloughs, they still remain possible. With each furlough day, ODAR would not be able to hold 3,000 hearings.