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Hern: Americans Struggle to Get Help from Social Security Administration

May 17, 2022

In opening remarks for a Social Security Subcommittee hearing, acting Republican Leader Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK) emphasized that Americans are struggling to access crucial Social Security services and assistance, and Ways and Means Republicans seeking to help are left waiting by the Social Security Administration.


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Rep. Hern’s full remarks as prepared for delivery appear below.


Thank you, Chairman Larson, for holding this important hearing, and thank you to all of our witnesses for being here today.


I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge our former colleague, our friend Tom Reed, who retired from the House last week and allowed me to be here as Ranking Member of this Subcommittee. He demonstrated a commitment to working with our friends across the aisle to find real solutions to the problems that every day Americans face, and I hope to continue in that tradition with today’s hearing.


As you know, Social Security touches the lives of every single American. But over the past two years, the American public has struggled to get in touch with the Social Security Administration for even the most basic of services.


In my home district in Oklahoma, seniors are completely unable to reach the Social Security Administration by phone. As a result, my elderly constituents end up calling my staff after many failed attempts to call the Social Security Administration.


Likewise, Congress has struggled to get timely responses from the SSA, such as in the lead up in this hearing where the administration’s testimony was severely delayed. Ranking Members Brady, Reed, and Rice, led a letter to Chairman Neal asking for the hearing. Again thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. I look forward to working with you and all of our colleagues on this Subcommittee to remove the barriers to quality service at the SSA whether it be policy, technology, or resources.


As we will hear today, the complexity of SSA’s processes and policies are not only a barrier to everyday Americans trying to navigate Social Security’s programs, they are also a roadblock to their own employees, taking up to three years for new hires to become productive. 


Think about that – the SSA’s programs are so complex that in some cases, new hires have to study longer than it takes many to earn an associate degree. Both Congress and the SSA bear responsibility for this complexity, so I’d like to work together to help make things simpler for those we serve.


Another major barrier to quality service relates to technology. SSA’s phone systems, like many of its other information technology systems, are outdated, and in desperate need of replacement. But attempts to upgrade the system during the pandemic have all failed, resulting in outages and reductions to both capacity and functionality, resulting in long hold times, disconnections, or failure to even reach the system in the first place. 


Although the SSA has made significant investments in IT modernization, in some cases, these enhancements actually increase the time and effort to complete cases, so I’d like to learn more about how SSA is tracking active cases to ensure that the American public is receiving a return on these investments.


Finally, while adequate resources are part of the solution, it’s just as important to make sure the SSA is using its resources wisely. 


The SSA’s administrative budget is made up of a combination of money from the Trust Funds and general revenues for SSI and other workloads. While the Social Security Trust Funds have a large surplus now, that surplus was built over four decades and is expected to be depleted in just over 10 years, meaning every Trust Fund dollar spent administering the programs is a dollar that can’t be paid in benefits. This brings us one dollar closer to Trust Fund exhaustion. 


Likewise, every general revenue dollar spent as part of SSA’s budget is a dollar taken from a hardworking taxpayer that can’t be used to pay for other priorities, including benefits. It’s important to make sure that these dollars are spent effectively.