Personal finance

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President Joe Biden’s 2022 budget could give the Social Security Administration a $1.3 billion — or 9.7% — boost in funding.

In total, the president is calling for $14.2 billion for the agency for fiscal year 2022.

The proposed increase comes as the Social Security Administration expects to pay more than $1.2 trillion in both Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits to more than 74 million beneficiaries in 2022.

If approved, the extra money could help the administration improve one key area — customer service — as it regroups from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The money would allow the Social Security Administration to pursue a host of improvement efforts, Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul said in the agency’s budget overview.

Among the areas the administration would address include wait times and backlogs, community outreach to vulnerable populations, and technology upgrades, he said.

“The President’s budget will allow us to begin recovering from the coronavirus pandemic disruptions, building on the lessons we learned to become a stronger and more responsive agency,” Saul said.

One advocacy group — the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare — says that more money would be crucial to help improve the administration’s ability to serve current beneficiaries and benefit applicants.

“Our concern for a long while has been that customer service just hasn’t really kept up the way that it should,” said Dan Adcock, director of government relations and policy at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Legacy problems to solve

The group’s concerns about Social Security customer service date back to before the pandemic, according to Adcock.

Among the problems people face include long waits on the Social Security Administration’s 800 number, a backlog of disability insurance cases under review and the closure of many field offices.

While the Covid pandemic exacerbated these issues, the funding Biden is proposing could help alleviate those concerns.

The money could help reduce the hearings backlog, bringing the annual average processing time for a decision down to 270 days in fiscal year 2022 from 386 days in fiscal year 2020 , according to the Social Security Administration’s estimates.

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It could also help increase the number of initial disability claims completed by 720,000 – to 2,757,000 in fiscal year 2022 from 2,037,000 in fiscal year 2020.

The 800 number wait times could also drop to 12 minutes in 2022 from 16 minutes in 2020.

Ultimately, it is up to Congress to approve the funding Biden has requested.

There should be a lot of support for that on the Hill due to a Democratic majority, Adcock said. “We just want to make sure that happens as the appropriations process moves forward.”

Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., who serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means’ subcommittee on Social Security, has voiced his support.

“President Biden’s budget proposal includes the necessary increases for the Social Security Administration [SSA] to help Americans access the benefits they’re earned,” Larson said in a statement.

In contrast, former President Donald Trump’s budget proposal last year sought to slash the program’s funding.

In March, Saul detailed how the government agency has adjusted its services amid the pandemic to emphasize virtual meetings and online services. Some of those changes could continue, he said at the time.

Where the $14.2 billion would go

More than $5 billion of the proposed $14.2 billion budget would go to payroll costs for frontline employees who work at the administration’s field offices, 800 phone number and processing centers, according to the Social Security Administration.

Additionally, more than $2.7 billion would be earmarked for disability determinations, including existing staff, new hires and other expenses at state disability determination centers. The administration plans to maintain the 10% increase in staff — or 1,300 additional employees — that it took on in the 2021 fiscal year.

More than $2.1 billion would fund the modernization of the administration’s IT infrastructure.

Another $1.7 billion would pay for the expansion of the anti-fraud disability investigations program, as well as the completion of program integrity reviews.

More than $1.1 billion is slated for payroll costs for employees in the hearings division.

In addition, $96 million would be dedicated to additional outreach for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI benefits. The goal would be to contact vulnerable people who are eligible for benefits, such as adults and children with disabilities, and the homeless.

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