As the security guard at a Social Security field office in the Philadelphia area, Larry Scheffler keeps his eyes and ears open. "I see people come in, the worry in their faces. And I see these employees doing the best they can to help them."
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And doing it with less money and less time with the public. Earlier this year, Congress cut the Social Security Administration's fiscal 2011 operating budget — the money that funds field offices, call centers and other facilities (but not benefits). The current $11.4 billion is $510 million less than in 2010, even as 8,000 boomers turn 65 daily and applications for retirement benefits are up by about a quarter in the last five years.
As a result, the SSA has shut remote service sites in rural areas and shelved plans for the first new call center in more than 10 years. On Aug. 15, most field offices began closing 30 minutes earlier (at 3:30 p.m.) to save on overtime. The 68,000-person agency is set to cut 3,500 jobs this year, with another 4,000 going in 2012.
The cuts result from a long-running Washington budget battle little noticed by the public. The risk is that Social Security will be unable to deliver service Americans deserve.
Still, the Philly-area office is running smoothly, a "thank you" concluding every transaction. Yvette Rosendo, 50, who came by to stop her deceased mother's checks, said she tried calling, but was on hold for 45 minutes. "I don't blame the SSA," she said. "It's being squeezed, just like everyone else."
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