Union chief opposes SSA budget proposalWASHINGTON...

Newswatch. . . ON FEDERAL WORKERS

April 29, 1992|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON BENEFITS FOR TEMPS: — Union chief opposes SSA budget proposal

WASHINGTON -- Robert M. Tobias, the head of the National Treasury Employees Union, has accused the Reagan and Bush administrations of "clandestinely dismantling SSA through the systematic sabotage of its service delivery system."

Mr. Tobias, who spoke at a Monday hearing of the House subcommittee that appropriates money for the Social Security Administration, called for increases in SSA's 1993 budget of $560 million and 8,700 FTEs (full-time equivalents) above President Bush's proposed budget.

The president's budget would cut SSA employment by 1,400 permanent workers and 700 FTEs, Mr. Tobias said.

This would leave an additional 1 million disabled people unserved, while 1.4 million Americans would have to wait seven to nine months for a decision on their benefits, he said.

The NTEU plan's price tag actually would be lower than it seems, Mr. Tobias said, because $400 million could be saved by reducing unnecessary payments.

The extra personnel could cut through the backlog of overpayment cases and review disability records to eliminate beneficiaries whose condition has improved, he said.

Mr. Tobias criticized the Bush administration for attempting to cut agency resources while the number of elderly and disabled Americans is growing rapidly.

Budget and personnel cuts in recent years have contributed to a poor record of customer service that the proposed 1993 budget would exacerbate, he said.

The backlog of pending disability claims will grow 100 percent between 1989 and 1992, while local office staffing will increase by only 2 percent, Mr. Tobias said.

Beneficiaries who called the agency's toll-free telephone number in January found the phones busy 73 percent of the time, he said.

Currently, there are about 40 million retirees, Mr. Tobias said. That number is expected to grow to 60 million by 2005 and 80 million by 2025, he said.

Rather than cutting back, "common sense dictates that in budgeting for SSA, we should aim to steadily expand the system's capacity."

Besides improved service, NTEU's recommended budget increase would fund locality pay increases, classification upgrades, overtime as mandated under the Fair Labor Standards Act, education and training, and ergonomic furniture.

The U.S. government's corps of temporary employees is getting cheated when it comes to benefits, says Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii.

Ms. Mink contends that the government employs temporary workers for many years, rather than hiring them on a permanent basis, to avoid paying their health care costs.

"I have federal workers in my district who have worked for the federal government for 15 years on a temporary basis," Ms. Mink said last month as she introduced a bill that would mandate the government to provide benefits to temporary workers who are on the federal payroll for one year.

"These people work the same hours as full-time employees, have the same responsibilities as full-time employees, and yet they are denied health care coverage to save the government a few bucks," Ms. Mink said.

Under current law, temporary workers must wait a year before they are eligible for federal health insurance, and then they must pay both the employer and employee contributions.

In addition, some federal agencies lay off temporary workers "a few days short of their one-year tenure, then rehire them several days later," Ms. Mink said. "All of this just to avoid having to provide health insurance and other employee benefits."

The proposed measure would eliminate the requirement that the year be worked concurrently, requiring only that the employee work the same job with the same agency for 12 months.

Under the bill, workers would be responsible only for the employee contribution toward health benefits; the government would pay the rest.

Ms. Mink said the federal government should set a good example for state and local governments, which, she said, use similar practices to avoid paying benefits.

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