By KELSI LOOS
BALTIMORE - The American Federation of Government Employees rallied here Wednesday to call attention to their contention that Social Security does not impact the deficit and should be spared changes in negotiations to solve the looming fiscal cliff.
The AFGE protest was one of more than 100 scheduled to take place in front of Social Security offices nationwide in response to Congress' inability to reach a budget agreement to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," the automatic budget cuts and tax changes set to take effect Jan. 2.
Social Security advocates were adamant that cutting Social Security was not a solution to budget problems.
"All of the conversations about cutting these programs are in the context of the deficit. Well, Social Security does not add one penny to the deficit," Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, said, adding that Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus.
The Washington Post Fact-checker column has analyzed that contention and rated it a slight stretch of the truth. Because Social Security funds are partly held in Treasury securities, paying the interest on the bonds into the Social Security fund is done with more Treasury securities, and therefore does impact the deficit, the column said.
The consequences to Social Security if Congress fails to stop the rush toward the fiscal cliff are real. The automatic cuts to domestic spending would mean a 5.5 percent budget cut to Social Security said National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals president, Witold Skwierczynski. That would be around $700 million less for the agency.
Employees could face a 10 percent pay cut and 26-day furlough, Skwierczynski said. This would create a serious backlog in processing Social Security claims, and disability claims could take 180 days 65 days longer than normal, he said.
Social Security advocates are also concerned about how decreasing resources will make it more difficult for each Social Security worker to adequately administer their caseload.
"At a time when their workload is expanding, we should be expanding field offices. We should be hiring new hires. This is not the time to cut back," Altman said.
Last year, office hours were reduced by a half hour and last week, they were reduced another half hour, Skwierczynski said. Social Security offices are now open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"It's one person doing the job of eight people," said claims representative Celisa Ford. "There is no time to work on the desk for the back work."
Skwierczynski noted that cutting the budget can actually end up costing the government money because they will be less able to do post- entitlement work to ensure that the recipient is still eligible for their benefits.
"For every dollar that the agency spends... we get $10 back," he said.
Speakers at the rally said the presidential election was a mandate to protect Social Security.
"There was just an election and elections matter. And our side won. The candidates that were endorsed by Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson and all the others who were talking about a grand bargain, lost," said Altman, who pointed out that Social Security polls very well.
Former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson headed the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, which was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010 to try to identify solutions to the nation's fiscal problems. Their report, released in December 2010 has been cited as a possible framework to create deal to head off the fiscal cliff.
"There has always been a small fringe group that has fought Social Security," Altman said, "and they've always lost."