A message from Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security:
About a year ago, I took the unprecedented step closer to our offices to the public. I did this to keep our employees and you—the public we serve—safe. As we enter year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines and other precautionary measures give us cause for hope. For now, we will continue our current safety measures as described in our COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan. This plan is iterative, and we will update it as we receive additional government-wide guidance and information from public health experts in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We understand that the public wants to engage with us on some matters in person, and our local offices are integral to our communities. We also know that not everyone can conveniently come to us in person and that when you do visit, you want the process to be efficient. For example, we may need evidence from you, but we do not need to interview you in person. We are currently testing drop box and express appointment options for the public to bring in the documentation.
Often, you only need to know your Social Security number and do not need a physical Social Security card. However, if you do need to replace your card, we are testing video appointments if you need a new Social Security card but do not need to change any of the information in our records. Although ideas like these began as solutions during COVID-19, we are considering how they could improve service in the future.
Some of these concepts also allow us to consider how we might continue to use telework, something that most organizations and companies have depended on during the COVID-19 pandemic, to drive longer-term operational efficiencies like reducing space. We could use those savings to provide you more online service options and hire more people to serve you more quickly as well as retain outstanding employees. We will continue to engage our managers, employees, and unions on ways we could use telework to improve customer service and other issues.
You can find the full statement, and links to helpful resources, here.
Status of the Medicare Trust Fund
There has been a certain amount of educated speculation about the effect of COVID-19 on the Social Security and Medicare systems. The 2020 OASDI Trustees Report, which was prepared before the pandemic gained a foothold and showed financial results through 2019, projected an exhaust date of 2035 for the combined OAS and DI funds. In April, Alicia Munnell of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College issued a brief saying that if the COVID-19 economic collapse causes payroll taxes to drop by, say, 20% for two years, the depletion date would move up by about two years, to 2033.The latest weigh-in has come from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Its September 2020 report, CBO Outlook for Major Federal Trust Funds 2020 to 2030, projects the following exhaust dates:
It should be noted that when Congress and the president are planning their spending, they use the unified budget perspective. Rather than attaching an expenditure to the earmarked receipts (e.g., payroll taxes), the expenditures are based on the underlying authorizing laws. Both Social Security and Medicare are mandatory expenditures, making up about 60% of the total federal budget. This means they are protected from the appropriations process. The only way these expenditures can be reduced is to change the authorizing laws, which requires a 60-vote majority in the Senate.
If the trust funds were to run dry, the United States would still be obligated to pay Social Security and Medicare benefits. The trustees, in their annual reports, generally say that when the trust funds run out, payroll taxes will be sufficient to pay X% of benefits (depending on which trust fund they are talking about). But the Social Security Act of 1935, as amended, requires benefits to be paid. There would be a conflict between two federal laws. Since we’ve never been in this situation, it’s impossible to know how it would be resolved.
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