From Raw Story

After receiving an internal e-mail indicating an extreme state of unrest at the Social Security Administration, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) has written Speaker Hastert regarding the situation.

Waxman claims that other internal documents indicate a “hemorrhaging” at Social Security call centers, and a flood of inaccurate information to seniors regarding the prescription drug plan.

Here is a message sent from Deputy Commissioner of Operations Linda McMahonare:

Ordinarily I would be sending you a Happy New Year note at this time, but the circumstances we are facing seem to call for a different message. I didn’t want you to think I’m out of touch with reality and don’t know about the significant challenges you are experiencing.

Ever since the Medicare Modernization Act passed, those of you on the front line have been expressing your deep concern that SSA is not positioned well to help people understand, enroll in and negotiate the new Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program. Now we are seeing the consequences of that fact. Our National 800 Number Network has been overwhelmed for weeks, with busy rates running above 35 percent many days. In the last few weeks, those folks who can’t get us on the phone have been coming into our field offices in large numbers. In fact, during the first two weeks in January, we had nearly 200,000 visitors a day – as many as 60,000 more than we saw in the fall. We already had large backlogs in our Processing Centers, and those will be exacerbated by the need to put more people on the phone to bring down the busy rate and keep people from needing to visit field offices. Of course, if we aren’t careful, we will generate more calls and visits from the folks whose actions will have to pend longer in the PCs.

It’s not a rosy picture, and the news doesn’t get better. Congress finally passed our FY06 budget in late December, and they gave us $300 million less than the President requested. That means we will not be able to replace all the employees we lose to retirement this year or accomplish all the automation projects we had intended to do to streamline work processes. At the same time, we have been given new mandates to do more thorough screening before we process Social Security Number applications and to include children under the age of one in that process.

So, where does that leave us? What are we going to do to cope with these problems? …

I won’t try to kid you. This is going to be a very difficult year, and the budget picture for next year doesn’t look any better. I commit to you that I will continue to work with the Commissioner to tell our story and enhance our chances of getting a better budget. I will be closely monitoring the impact of our decisions and will make adjustments as necessary to ensure that we maximize the use of our resources and minimize the negative fallout from the shortfall. Of course, that means we will probably be changing priorities as the year unfolds, so please prepare yourselves mentally for that possibility.

LA Times

The email was released by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles). His office said it verified the authenticity of the message, which is labeled “Difficult Times.” Waxman called for immediate congressional action to restore a recently enacted cut of about $200 million in Social Security’s administrative budget.

“The problems faced by the Medicare program in implementing the benefit are spilling over and having significant impacts on the Social Security program,” he said in a letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Jammed phone lines have been widely reported at Medicare offices and at private insurance plans, however, problems at Social Security have largely gone unnoticed or overlooked.

Although the law that created the Medicare D provided additional funding for Social Security in 2004 and 2005, it earmarked no funds for when the agency is at its busiest, according to Waxman.

Congress cut the agency’s administrative budget by .2 billion dollars for 2006.  Also, the Social Security Agency has gained approval to reduce disability reviews, which are supposed to determine the continuation/existence of a disability. In theory, this saves the agency money.  In reality, it does not appear to tell the Social Security Agency anything it did not already know.

However, despite the growth Medicare and Medicaid, veterans in Congress aren’t expecting much progress on the deficit.

Accoding to Senate Budget Committee Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota,

“It’ll largely be a do-nothing year, unfortunately…We all know the history, which is that very little in terms of bold action gets done in an election year.”

Wish I could be that optomistic!!!