Social Security prepares for potential furloughs

Friday - 2/18/2011, 1:02pm EST

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

The Social Security Administration said it wants to start talking to the employees' union about a potential furlough as House Republicans propose about $1.7 billion in cuts to the agency for the next seven months remaining in the fiscal year.

"Given the potential of reduced Congressional appropriations for the remainder of the fiscal year, the agency is issuing this notice at this time in the event that a furlough may become necessary," said Jay Clary, acting associate commissioner for Office of Labor-Management and Employee Relations, in a Feb. 17 letter to the American Federal of Government Employees.

House Republicans have proposed a $61 billion cut to spending for the rest of the current fiscal year, ending Sept. 30. The current continuing resolution ends March 4.

Clary noted that no furlough has been issued yet. He added that bargaining about the preparations for a furlough must begin no later than March 22. Federal News Radio has emailed AFGE requesting comment.

Democratic ranking members of the House Ways and Means Committee said cuts to Social Security will further harm an agency already faced with backlogs. SSA had 64,000 employees, as of Nov. 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"If Social Security field offices are closed, claims will go unprocessed, a backlog of cases will pile up, and hard-earned benefits of our of seniors, widows and disabled workers could be delayed," said Rep. Xavier Becerra D-Calif., the ranking member of the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, in a statement. "Social Security didn't get us into this mess and we must divorce it from the deficit reduction debate."

Ways and Means Ranking Member Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) echoed the disapproval of a furlough, saying in a statement, "There are few budget cuts more irresponsible than those that fall on the backs of our seniors and people with disabilities, yet that's exactly who this Republican proposal would end up hurting."