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Throwing money away

Furloughing the California employees who make disability decisions for the Social Security Administration, whose salaries are federally funded, saves nothing and makes the state deficit worse.

September 21, 2010|By Yvonne Walker and Michael J. Astrue

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have a cameo role in a current film, but the real "Expendables" appear to be disabled Californians, the state employees who make disability decisions for the Social Security Administration and the federal dollars he is throwing away. Long before he was governor, bodybuilder Schwarzenegger lived by the motto "No pain, no gain." However, as California's chief executive, his policy of furloughing even those state employees whose salaries are federally funded has given rise to a new axiom: "Lots of pain for no gain."

Social Security pays 100% of the salaries and overhead for workers in California's Disability Determination Services Division (DDSD) — bringing in more than $211 million a year to the state. These employees make medical determinations for Social Security payments. As a direct result of their work, each month Social Security pays $1.3 billion in disability benefits to more than 1.3 million California residents.

Furloughing DDSD employees does not save California a single penny. It has done nothing to reduce the $19-billion general fund deficit. Instead, the state loses the federal funds allocated for the DDSD. Most tragically, it imposes a financial burden on California's disabled citizens by delaying millions of dollars in federal disability benefits and medical coverage to those in need.

To meet the needs of California residents, the Social Security Administration is redirecting thousands of backlogged California cases to Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The cost of processing such cases will total millions of dollars — federal dollars that would have gone to California, had the governor chosen to exempt the DDSD workers from furloughs.

The governor has argued in court that furloughs are necessary in all agencies, regardless of funding source, because of the need for "parity" among state workers. But in his current executive order, he has undercut his own premise by exempting thousands of workers in non-general fund agencies.

We understand the tough economic decisions facing California and the political implications of unique treatment for certain employees. But the fact is that Social Security and the DDSD enjoy a unique fiscal relationship. If the purpose of furloughing employees is to save the state money, it makes no financial sense to furlough DDSD employees.

California has no excuse for not exempting these employees from furloughs, and the governor needs to put an end to this pointless pain. No one should applaud Schwarzenegger's performance in implementing a policy that makes California residents with disabilities "expendable."

Yvonne Walker is president of SEIU Local 1000, which represents DDSD employees. Michael J. Astrue is the commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

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