President Donald Trump’s proposed $54 billion in budget cuts to civilian agencies could cut deep into the Social Security Administration’s workforce in fiscal 2018.
The Social Security Administration may have to furlough the agency’s workforce five days for every 1 percent cut to its administrative budget, according to American Federation of Government Employees Council 220, the union that represents 29,000 field operations and phone service center employees across the country. If the Trump administration cuts non-defense spending equally across all civilian agencies, SSA employees may see as many as 8 weeks or 40 days of furloughs, the AFGE council said.
“We have the fight of our lives ahead of us,” Witold Skwierczynski, the council’s president, said in a message on its website.
The President’s budget blueprint includes $603 billion for defense spending and $462 billion for non-defense discretionary spending.
Skwierczynski acknowledged that it’s still unclear exactly how the President plans to allocate non-discretionary funding for civilian agencies. The administration’s plans to build a physical barrier along the southwest border and boost spending to the Homeland Security Department to enforce its immigration policies may mean deeper cuts to the SSA budget than what Skwierczynski first told his members, he said.
“But what [the agency] has told us and what they indicated in a meeting with the Social Security Administration Advisory Committee in January is that any cuts in their current budget for administrative expenses would cause the agency to furlough employees,” he said.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney revealed the President’s topline budget figures last week. The administration is expected to release a more detailed budget sometime in May. Agencies have been reviewing their topline numbers, along with OMB’s recommendations for meeting those budget figures, over the past week. The “pass back” process should take until the middle of the month.
“The fear is that [Trump] is going to treat SSA’s budget like other agencies, and that budget cuts will lead to furloughs,” he said.
Even without the possibility of major cuts to civilian agency spending, the current budgetary climate would have forced the agency to make tough decisions and issue furlough notices, Skwierczynski said.
“They’re saying they’re down to the bone,” he said. “Our budgets have decreased. The staffing in the field offices from 2010 to now has been reduced by 10 percent. We haven’t kept up with inflation in our administrative budget.”
The Social Security Administration closed and consolidated field offices over the past five years or so. The number of SSA field office employees dropped by 5 percent between fiscal 2010 and 2015 — from 29,114 to 27,667 — according to the agency’s inspector general. Social Security customers are also waiting longer; field offices wait times went from an average of 19 minutes in 2010 to 26 minutes in 2015.
Skwierczynski said SSA had implemented a limited hiring freeze starting Oct. 1, before Trump took office and authorized a short-term hiring freeze for some positions. SSA is only hiring administrative judges.
“We’ve haven’t been replacing people since October,” Skwierczynski said. “We’ve already seen in the first quarter of the fiscal year…that some of our indicators have gotten a lot worse, specifically on the 1-800 numbers. It’s having an impact already.”
More details of the “pass back” are also becoming known at other agencies.
The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, could face a 25 percent cut to its budget, a 20 percent staffing cut and up to a 30 percent reduction to state grants.
The Associated Press reported that the State Department could see double-digit budget reductions. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is eyeing 37 percent cuts to foreign aid and diplomatic spending over three years, the AP reports.