Boebert blasts official over funding waste: ‘That’s a math problem’

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert locked horns with a Social Security official over a backlog of applicants at the agency that has more than doubled since the COVID pandemic.

In an exchange Wednesday during a hearing on post-pandemic teleworking policies, the Colorado Republican wrangled with Oren “Hank” McKnelly who explained that it’s simply a “math problem” at the Social Security Administration where he is an executive counselor.

“You all are allowing delinquent employees to sit on their sofas at home and instead of actually getting to work and doing their jobs. This is absolutely unacceptable,” Boebert said Wednesday in the hearing titled, “Oversight of Federal Agencies’ Post-Pandemic Telework Policies.”

McKnelly explained that the employees are monitored, assuring the congresswoman that there are systems in place to keep an eye on virtual working staff.

“So our employees are subject to the same performance management processes and oversight they are, whether they’re teleworking or working in the office, and we have systems in place that our managers use to schedule, assign, and track workloads, and that includes individual employee workloads in many cases,” he said.

“So real-time understanding of what actions are being processed at any particular given time,” McKnelley, an Army vet who joined the SSA in 2020, continued.

“Additionally, our employees are required to be accessible to their supervisors, clients, colleagues, and external parties during work hours for a variety of means, including instant messaging, video platforms, and telephone. They are connected to the workplace, whether they are in the office or at the home,” he added.

But Boebert needed some clarity on the numbers.

“Then why is the backlog for Social Security applicants increased from 41,000 to 107,000?” she asked.

“Because we’ve been historically underfunded for a number of years now,” McKnelly reasoned, in what could be seen as a jab at Republicans who have worked to cut federal spending.

“I don’t think you’re underfunded. You’re funded at the Nancy Pelosi levels, at the Democrat levels,” the congresswoman shot back. “We just continued that same funding.”

But McKnelly disagreed, citing numbers from the last decade.

“So I’d say we’d have an increase of over 8 million beneficiaries over the last 10 years. At the same time, we experienced our lowest work staffing levels at the end of FY 22,” he told Boebert.

“That’s a math problem,” he added.”I mean, that is a problem if you have those workloads increasing and you don’t have the staff to take care of those workloads. You’re going to have the backlogs that you’re talking about, Representative.”

At a hearing in October, Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., discussed the long wait times for applicants, explaining that it takes 100 days longer for claims to be decided currently than it did in 2019.

“For the first time in history, more than 1 million people are waiting on the Social Security Administration to process their initial disability claim,” the chair of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee said.

“While the SSA claims that it is working to address the backlog, its policy and resource priorities say otherwise,” Ferguson said in his opening remarks.

The current 220 days that it takes for claims to be decided is more than 150 days longer than the agency’s own minimum standard, according to Ferguson.

“The real-world consequences for these individuals who are unable to work and wait for their disability decision is devastating,” the chairman said.

“Let me put this in plain English: the SSA is unable to keep up with the claims it has but is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get more claims, dollars that should instead be going to provide claimants with faster decisions,” Ferguson continued. “Meanwhile, the SSA is sitting on solutions that would modernize and streamline the claims process.”

Frieda Powers

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