Last month, Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, issued a statement to the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in conjunction with the Administration’s 2023 Operating Plan. The Operating Plan summarizes the projections for Social Security in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, detailing the proposed spending and expenditures. With a $14.127 billion budget, a modest increase from Fiscal Year 2022, the budget represents nearly $645 million less than what was requested.
What to expect in Fiscal Year 2023
The Social Security Administration intends to use FY 2023 as “the foundation for improved services.” Facing the “lowest staffing level in over 25 years,” the Administration hopes to use a portion of the funding provided to address these issues, which should help to shift wait times at Social Security back to pre-pandemic levels. Funding will continue to support the hiring and training of new employees while providing the same level of overtime for current employees to help mitigate any workflow disruption as a result.
Addressing the areas of most concern
Historically high retention issues lie at the heart of the biggest challenges the Administration faces. With proper staffing levels, Social Security could make a dent in the backlogs and help decrease wait times at all levels. Of particular concern is addressing the high employee losses at the Disability Determination Services (DDS) offices. A dedicated team has been established to address the backlog at DDS in medical decisions at the initial and reconsideration levels and for continuing disability reviews (CDR).
Within the budget is $55 million earmarked to specifically address the hearing backlog over the next eighteen months. While hearing wait times dropped dramatically during the pandemic thanks to video and telephone hearings, there is still a significant backlog of claims waiting for an in-person hearing. In addition, as claim backlogs are worked through at the earlier levels, additional inventory will be added to the backlog. To prepare for the increase in inventory, Social Security is working on hiring new Administrative Law Judges for the first time in more than five years.
A budget that falls short
Despite the increase year-over-year, the budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year will not get the Social Security Administration where it needs to be. Upskilling new hires, while an important first step, will likely not show any relief until at least 2024, something Acting Commissioner Dr. Kijakazi recognizes. It will take time to train new employees, and current employees will need to take time off the floor to train them. Despite best efforts to mitigate the impact, the backlogs will get worse before they get better. According to Social Security’s own estimates, the time to decision is expected to increase by approximately 20% at both the initial and reconsideration levels in 2023.
To truly make an impact and unwind the pandemic problem, the Social Security Administration needs funding to upgrade the technology currently used by employees to help maximize the available resources. Before the pandemic, many Social Security offices relied on paper technology, such as fax machines and printers, which proved ineffective, causing significant delays when offices were closed to keep federal employees and the public they serve safe. Investing in new and updated technologies will give employees the tools needed to process cases more efficiently and handle additional customer service matters as they arise.
Hope remains for 2024
Earlier this month, Acting Commissioner Dr. Kijazaki responded to President Joe Biden’s proposed FY 2024 budget. While the FY 2023 budget leaves much to be desired, there is more to be hopeful about next year. The President’s budget hopes to strengthen both Social Security and Medicare, providing a $1.4 billion increase over FY 2023. This 10% increase would provide the additional funding needed to help Social Security move wait times back to pre-pandemic levels while helping to improve customer service levels across the board. While The White House issues a proposed budget each spring, it really is just a wish list of the administration, as it is Congress’ ultimate responsibility to negotiate and pass a federal budget for each Fiscal Year.
At Brown & Brown Absence Services Group, we are encouraged by the Acting Commissioner’s continued transparency regarding the state of the Social Security Administration, as well as her hope in moving the Administration forward. While we are encouraged, millions of Americans are still waiting. There is no other option but for budget and funding to come together quickly to serve the most vulnerable who need assistance.
We will continue to monitor updates related to the state of the Social Security Administration, including its funding, and report on any significant findings. If you have any additional questions about the Social Security budget, you may contact your local office or Brown & Brown directly.