Budget impasse means less paid overtime for some feds

By Ed O'Keefe
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 11:40 PM

Budget negotiations on Capitol Hill are forcing the Social Security Administration to suspend paid overtime for workers who process benefits and review applications.

Such pay for employees whose duties relate directly to "life/safety/preservation of property" concerns will not be affected, according to a memo sent to workers.

The decision stems from uncertainty about SSA's future budget, according to spokesman Mark Lassiter. "We hope to be able to resume overtime depending on congressional action on our final budget," he said.

The House on Tuesday passed a temporary spending measure that would keep most federal agencies operating at last year's funding levels until April 8 as longer-term budget negotiations continue.

The Senate is expected to approve the bill before the current continuing resolution expires on Friday.

Suspending overtime payments could mean longer processing times and claims backlogs, said Witold Skwierczynski, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 220, which represents SSA workers nationwide.

SSA employees represented by the union are paid hourly and must be paid overtime if their workday exceeds eight hours, Skwierczynski said. Most workers spend the bulk of their time interviewing clients in person or by telephone, but often spend additional time adjudicating each case, he said.

If employees are assigned to do adjudication work instead of interviewing clients in order to cut back on work hours, "this will cause longer wait times for in-office traffic and phone calls that won't get through to an employee," he said.

The agency is preparing for hundreds of millions of dollars in potential cuts as budget negotiations continue.

The SSA will suspend the opening of eight hearing offices and a new teleservice center. and will close 300 contact stations, Administrator Michael J. Astrue told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee last week.

Closing contact stations - essentially donated spaces in hospitals, nursing homes and libraries where SSA employees meet with customers on scheduled days - could mean less access for Americans in small towns far from regional offices, Skwierczynski said.

Agency officials are negotiating with Skwierczynski regarding possible furloughs if a full-scale government shutdown occurs as part of the budget negotiations.

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