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Help Social Security Help Older Americans

Congress can provide funding to solve a customer service crisis

spinner image a social security card sinking under a wave in the ocean
Getty Images

In the 88 years since the Social Security Act of 1935 was signed into law, it has become the cornerstone of our nation’s commitment to care for its older people. Before Social Security, vast numbers of aging Americans had no protection against what President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the time called “the hazards and vicissitudes of life.”

So it is no surprise that Social Security has consistently received overwhelming support from Americans, regardless of age, gender or political ideology.

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That fact is reaffirmed by the results of a recent AARP survey that shows Americans place very high value on Social Security benefits. More than 7 in 10 of those surveyed consider Social Security to be one of the most important government programs.

spinner image AARP CEO JoAnn Jenkins, illustration
Illustration by Michael Hoeweler

To keep the program strong, changes must be made before the Social Security trust funds face a shortfall in the next decade. Our survey found nearly 9 in 10 Americans agree that Congress must work to protect Social Security.

But Social Security has a more immediate problem. The customer service it provides falls far short of what older Americans have a right to expect. It is unacceptable that callers to Social Security’s national toll-free number waited an average of 39 minutes this summer for someone to answer. That’s more than four times as long as two years ago and more than 10 times longer than in 2011. Even more concerning is that right now, Americans filing for disability benefits wait on average for 220 days to find out whether they qualify.

And if they appeal that decision, it may take well over a year before they receive a final answer. Tragically, from 2008 to 2018, there was a 38 percent increase in the number of people who died while waiting for a decision by the Social Security Administration (SSA), according to a 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office—and wait times for hearings remain high.

spinner image thirty nine minutes is the average caller wait time for social security national number assistance two hundred and twenty days is the average time that americans filing a disability claim wait to find our if they qualify

That is why AARP is calling on Congress to address this crisis directly by providing adequate funding to Social Security.

For 2023, through AARP’s advocacy efforts, the SSA received a 6 percent budget increase, which was set at $14.1 billion. Unfortunately, call wait times and waiting periods still increased.

This year’s increased funding doesn’t make up for years of underfunding that has left the agency short of much-needed resources. And it doesn’t reflect the increased workload of Social Security. Since 2010, the number of Americans served by the agency rose by 22 percent, while during the same time its budget has decreased by 17 percent.

Congress is making important funding decisions. With your support, AARP urges Congress to fully meet the SSA’s budget needs for 2024. We promise to hold the agency accountable to use funding to make major improvements in customer service.

As Congress and presidential candidates debate budgetary priorities, the message from the American people is clear: Make the necessary funding commitments now to ensure that Social Security has a chance to resolve the customer service crisis.

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