Social Security Administration prepares for shutdown, cuts
The Obama administration and congressional Republicans insist they're working to avoid a government shutdown on March 4 if they can't agree on spending levels. But at least some federal agencies are planning ahead, just in case.
Officials with the Social Security Administration and union leaders plan to hold talks in the next week to discuss what to do if the government shuts down March 4 if President Obama and congressional leaders can't strike a deal on how to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. The talks are also expected to focus on what to do if Congress cuts the agency's budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, according to union leaders.
Though Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue hasn't made any decisions on furloughing workers, the agency wants to meet with union leaders "in the event that a furlough may become necessary," Jay Clary, the agency's acting associate commissioner for labor issues told union leaders in a letter late last week.
Planning ahead for a potential shutdown is prudent, considering the chaos that ensued during shutdowns in 1995 and 1996. During the first shutdown, about 4,800 agency employees stayed on the job to ensure beneficiaries continued receiving checks, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
Another 61,000 other workers had to stay home, but officials quickly reconsidered after realizing they didn't have enough employees available to answer telephone calls from beneficiaries or to process new claims, the report said. Other adjustments were made during the longer shutdown that stretched from Dec. 1995 into Jan. 1996.
The shutdowns forced similar cutbacks at other agencies that delayed the distribution of veterans payments, welfare checks and other federal benefits.
"I don't know who might have to stay home this time," said Witold Skwierczynski, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 220 representing agency employees. The union is already negotiating a new contract and plans to devote next week's talks to the potential impact of a shutdown and budget cuts, he said.
"We're upset about a furlough, and we're planning a series of information picketing events on March 2nd around the country to protest this whole situation, but we don't have a problem with the agency giving us a heads up," Skwierczynski said Monday. "Hopefully it won't happen, but if it does, we'll have an opportunity to negotiate a reasonable methodology if they do have to furlough."
The spending measure passed by the House early Saturday would reduce SSA's budget by about $625 million compared to last year, meaning the agency may need to furlough workers up to 10 days, Skwierczynski said. If necessary, the union is hoping furloughed workers could take their forced unpaid leave all at once in order to apply for unemployment benefits, he said.
Similar planning is underway at other agencies, according to sources, and it's expected we'll learn more about similar contingency plans this week.
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| February 22, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Budget, Eye Opener, Government Shutdown
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