March 2, 2011 was not an average lunch period for Social Security (SSA) employees. Workers at SSA offices around the state marched in informational picket lines outside their offices to call attention to the impact of Congress's proposed budget cuts not just on themselves but also on the people they serve.
If the current Congressional budget proposal is passed, it would result in significant cuts for all seniors, disabled, survivors, Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries, and could even mean getting a new Social Security card. In fact, if this budget is adopted, SSA employees who are subject to President Obama’s wage freeze would be furloughed for up to one month before the end of the fiscal year (which is September 30, 2011). SSA workers would find themselves with significant pay cuts, while other expenses are going up all the time.
Witold Skwierczynski, president of AFGE National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, explained the serious repercussions of these cuts:
SSA is already operating under a partial hiring freeze because of the current Continuing Resolution. A major loss of staff, budget cuts and furloughs will compromise the progress made in chipping away at the vast backlogs in integrity workloads such as Continuing Disability Reviews and SSI Redeterminations. We would be cutting services to the population who need assistance at key times in their lives – retirees and the disabled. Why would we treat this population with such cavalier insensitivity? If the government shuts down due to failure of Congress to agree on a budget and SSA closes its doors, the most vulnerable population will have no access to the benefits they are entitled to receive.
Employees at my Eastmont Mall Social Security office East Oakland were joined by members of the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA) including former California Labor Federation President and current CARA Treasurer Tom Rankin. Others from United Seniors of Alameda County joined the employees. The demonstration was covered by KTVU Channel 2 Fox in Oakland and KPFA FM in Berkeley. Similar events that took place at other SSA offices throughout the country showed that SSA employees care as much for the public as they do for themselves.
Every day, as more and more people in California get older, they're more likely to find themselves a widow or widower or disabled, and they need a place to file for life-sustaining benefits. 2011 is the first year that the first “baby boomers” will be 65 and eligible for Medicare. Among these people are former Presidents and federal employees Bush and Clinton.
As I said at our picket. “If both these men were lucky enough to live in East Oakland instead of Texas and New York, and they wanted to file for benefits here, they might find a 'Closed' sign if employees were furloughed. Social Security benefits everyone!”