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Social Security workers protest looming cuts

Union employees at the Alexandria Social Security Administration (SSA) held signs outside their office at 1103 Broadway opposing proposed cuts to the SSA budget Wednesday. They included (left to right) Julie Schaefer, Annette Retzlaff and Clint Tuorila.

The workers standing in the cold outside the Alexandria Social Security Administration (SSA) building Wednesday didn't seem to mind the 15-below wind chill.

They had bigger things on their minds - things they wanted to bring to the public's attention.

As part of an "informational picket," they held signs protesting proposed federal cuts that they say would severely impact the public.

House Republicans have proposed a $1.7 billion reduction in the SSA's operating budget (not benefits) for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. That represents about 15 percent of the SSA's $11.4 billon budget.

If enacted, the SSA administrators said they'd have to furlough their employees for up to one month between now and the end of the year.

The Alexandria SSA has seven employees, but Clint Tuorila, a claims representative in the office, said there's much more at stake than their own furloughs.

"It's all about the public being affected," he said.

The Alexandria SSA helps more than 23,000 people in its service area receive more than $3.8 million in monthly SSA benefits, Tuorila said.

If the cuts are approved, it would lead to longer waits for benefits, he said. It would create a backlog for those with pending disability claims. The wait for hearings would also be longer. Those calling the SSA's toll-free number could also expect long delays, Tuorila said.

On Wednesday, Congress passed a stopgap measure, a "continuing resolution," to keep the federal government funded through March 18, when legislators will return to the negotiating table. It includes $4 billion in cuts that don't impact the SSA.

The House budget bill, which passed on a 235-189 vote, contains a total of $61 billion in cuts. Those who voted for it said it's needed to rein in out-of-control government spending and to address the federal deficit, which is projected to hit $1.6 trillion this year.

The SSA workers are part of the American Federation (AFGE) - the largest federal employee union in the nation. It represents 600,000 workers in the federal government.

Other groups involved in Wednesday's nationwide picket included the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, the Alliance for Retired Americans and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

A furlough of this magnitude would significantly impact the already-beleaguered Social Security disability process, according to AFGE leaders. Nationwide, the SSA is still reeling from a partial hiring freeze that will likely result in the loss of 3,500 jobs this year, according to AFGE.

Should offices close and employees be forced to leave their jobs, "public service will be devastated," according to Dana Duggins of AFGE.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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