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Report: Federal furloughs, downsizing if sequestration cuts happen

Jul. 26, 2012 - 12:10PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments

The Social Security Administration would have to furlough its entire 65,000-strong workforce for about six weeks next year if across-the-board budget cuts take effect as scheduled in January, a congressional forecast has found. In addition, the agency would shrink by about 5,000 employees through attrition and the loss of temporary staff, according to a new report.

The furloughs would also affect some 15,000 state Disability Determination Service employees who make initial determinations on applications for federal disability insurance and Supplemental Security Income. As a result, the average processing time for applications would climb from 111 to 180 days, according to the report by a Senate appropriations subcommittee. The subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, oversees the budgets for SSA and the Labor, Education and Health and Human Services departments.

The report added that the backlog of pending disability insurance claims at SSA would almost double from 861,000 this year to almost 1.5 million by the end of fiscal 2013.

The report was released Wednesday. A SSA spokeswoman was not familiar with it Thursday and had no immediate comment.

The across-the-board cuts, technically known as a sequester, are set to begin taking effect Jan. 2 if Congress cannot agree on a path to pare $1.2 trillion from future deficits by 2021.

In 2013, the reductions would total about $110 billion, split equally between defense and non-defense programs, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank.

Although lawmakers’ alarm has focused on the potential effects of the defense cuts, sequestration “would also have destructive impacts” on an array of other federal activities, Harkin said in a preface to the report.

At the Social Security Administration, for example, sequestration would mean a reduction of about $890 million — or almost 8 percent — from this year’s $11.45 billion administrative budget, the subcommittee found.

For just three Education Department programs — Head Start, special education grants and Title I — the lost funding would amount to $2.7 billion next year and would either cost some 46,000 employees their jobs or force state and local government to cover their salaries, the panel said.

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