Social Security may have emerged as an unlikely issue in the midterm elections, with some Republicans making noises about changing how Social Security works and Democrats vowing to protect it. But now, elected officials in the president’s party are calling for new leadership at the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Three senators have authored a letter urging President Joe Biden to fill vacancies at SSA. The letter was authored by Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH.) The senators asked the president to duly name a Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the agency.
The three senators were joined by several others, all Democrats besides Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
“Today Social Security covers over 179 million workers, and over 70 million people receive monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits. More than one out of every six U.S. residents collects Social Security benefits and older Americans make up about four out of every five beneficiaries," the three senators wrote. "Recent U.S. Census Bureau reports show that Social Security provides over half of the income for older adults, and nearly all of their income for one in four older adults. Social Security continues to be one of the largest anti-poverty programs in the country, lifting over 22 million Americans out of poverty.”
The senators also shared some history.
“The Social Security Administration’s longstanding labor-management problems worsened under the prior Administration,” the letter said.
“Under prior leadership, SSA was among the most hostile agencies in the federal government in the way it chose to implement the since-repealed anti-union executive orders from 2018. Employee satisfaction is falling at SSA, and SSA employees report feelings of exhaustion at among the highest rates of any federal agency. Permanent, Senate-confirmed leadership at the agency will help improve this longstanding challenge for the agency and its employees.”
Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi has been the acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration since July of 2021, replacing the Trump-era commissioner Andrew M. Saul. Saul was removed after he refused to resign. Kijakazi had been announced as acting commissioner, with a permanent nominee to be announced later, although more than a year has passed and Biden has yet to name such a commissioner.
It is not rare for acting Social Security commissioners to serve for a period of many years. Carolyn W. Colvin was acting commissioner for the entirety of Barack Obama’s second term, when her nomination was never brought up for a full vote by the Senate. Nancy A. Berryhill was acting commissioner for the first two years of the Trump presidency.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.