Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this article, including in Tuesday's print edition of The Post, incorrectly reported the day that Social Security workers would be picketing. It is Wednesday, not Tuesday. This version has been corrected.

Social Security offices across U.S. to protest cuts

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Social Security workers around the country will take the path of their counterparts in state governments, picketing Wednesday to protest budget cuts.

While tensions continue in Wisconsin and at statehouses elsewhere over Republican efforts to restrict union rights and reduce state workers' pay, demonstrations are planned at 75 Social Security offices from Rhode Island to Montana over a House Republican plan to cut $1.7 billion from the Social Security Administration's $11.4 billion budget.

The cut would be among hundreds of hits to federal agencies under a GOP-controlled House proposal to eliminate $61 billion in federal spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year. With the House and Democratic-controlled Senate on course to break an impasse over spending and avert, for two weeks, a government shutdown, such steep cuts across government appear unlikely.

The stopgap measure that Congress is likely to approve this week would cut $4 billion in spending from the federal budget this fiscal year. The $4 billion is based on cuts that President Obama had targeted for fiscal 2012. Those cuts would not touch the Social Security Administration.

Obama's plan, proposed last month, seeks $12.7 billion for the Social Security Administration for the next fiscal year, an increase over current levels.

But union leaders - expect Republicans to aggressively seek more cuts this year and next - said they have no guarantees the Social Security agency won't ultimately be hit hard regardless of any compromise. They are preparing for the worst.

"We have hoped it will not happen, but we have no reason to believe it won't," said Dana Duggins, an official with the American Federation of Government Employees National Council of Social Security Administration locals.

Social Security workers plan to hand out fliers Wednesday and carry signs that read "No furloughs" and "No budget cuts" during a staggered midday lunch period and to tell the public what they think would happen if the Republican plan - or a smaller version of it - were to be enacted: furloughs lasting from one to three weeks for the agency's 70,000 workers and what the union is calling drastic cuts in service.

Union officials say that delivery of Social Security checks would take longer, claims for disability benefits would not be processed and phone lines would be clogged.

"Public service would be devastated," Duggins said. Even if the House and Senate "split the difference" and enact fewer spending cuts, "you're still looking at furlough days and less service," Duggins said.

The demonstrations are part of a campaign by the AFGE , the federal government's largest union, to fight looming cuts to the workforce.

Federal workers have been targeted by Republican lawmakers and the White House as both seek to reduce the deficit by reorganizing and reducing government. Obama announced a five-year freeze on some non-security spending and a major reorganization of government in his State of the Union speech in January, after signing a two-year pay freeze late last year.

The union has responded with radio spots, an organizing blitz and mail campaigns to members of Congress.

Members of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign and other groups were also scheduled to take part in Wednesday's protests.

The deal reached last week would keep the government operating until March 18, when legislators would have to return to the negotiating table.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company