Ilhan Omar community meeting

Rep. Ilhan Omar


Rep. Ilhan Omar feels nostalgic about her time as a state representative. Congress is passing continued resolutions just to avoid a government shutdown. These continued resolutions, long-form for C.R.s, are not even adjusted for inflation.
“We’ve seen an extreme challenge in passing our funding bills. It’s been incredibly hard for committees to come together to fund, to pass, any of the 12 funding bills that we normally pass in a regular fiscal year,” Omar told voters at Sanford Middle School on Feb. 26.
“We’ve been stuck in a space where we’re passing continued resolutions. Which is essentially to say, we’re going to continue to fund the government at the level that it was funded in the last fiscal year,” Omar said.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, with a DFL trifecta, lawmakers accomplished things like paid sick leave, paid family leave, historic investments in housing, and codified abortion rights.
“I have to tell you, as somebody who served there in the minority, every time I’m there with them, I’m very jealous of just how productive they have been,” Omar said.
Rep. Samantha Sencer-Mura, House District 63A, can’t help but brag.
“Sometimes when our friends at the federal level are a little slow to move on things, we here in Minnesota had the most transformative legislative session that we have had in decades, in centuries,” Sencer-Mura said.
“It brings me great joy knowing that our congressional district is being greatly represented by people who see us and care about us,” Omar said.
Social Security is one of several programs that Minnesotans and Americans rely on. The Social Security Administration is understaffed. There are long wait times on the agency’s toll-free hotline.
“Social Security is in a state of crisis, as you know being the vice ranking member of the budget committee,” said Jessica LaPointe at the meeting. LaPointe is the president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 220, a union which represents workers at Social Security field offices and call centers.
LaPointe said that current levels of flat funding will not keep pace with surging demand at Social Security call centers. “We are severely underfunded in our operating costs. Our budgets have been slashed 17% over the last decade while benefits are on the rise by over 25%,” she said.
LaPointe also noted that Minnesota faces similar problems. “And in your state alone, staffing levels have decreased by 17%, which results in lack of access for Social Security benefits and really destabilizes communities,” LaPointe said.
“And the backlogs,” Omar added.
A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive research and policy organization, showed that staffing fell to a 25-year low in 2023. The same study revealed that congressional cuts to the Social Security customer service budget totaled 17% since 2011.
“There are over a million claims pending right now for disability decisions,” said LaPointe. “It takes over seven and half months to get an initial disability decision, two and a half years to get a decision for the hearing level, which results in about 10,000 Americans dying per year waiting for that decision.”
Large backlogs in disability applications and longer wait times on the agency’s toll-free hotline stem from budget cuts enacted by Congress going back to 2011.
LaPointe said that Social Security Administration Commissioner Martin O’Malley is promising action, but the agency is still helpless without a funding package from Congress.
“With flat funding, as you know, that is going to be a cut to our operating costs,” said LaPointe. “And we will see our lowest staffing levels ever at the administration, at a time when we have a confirmed commissioner that is the Babe Ruth of rehabilitated government. We want him to get some homeruns, but we can’t without a budget,” she added.
LaPointe outlined to the two-term congresswoman and Squad member a funding proposal that also accounts for inflation to help ease wait times and backlogs. “We’re asking for $17.4 billion annually and a supplemental funding package like the Inflation Reduction Act of $20 billion over the next 10 years to revitalize the program,” she said. “What is the hope for getting money for SSA, so that your constituents can have access to their FICA dollars?”
“I don’t see much hope at the moment,” Omar said, adding, “I say that because we are not on a path to approving a single funding bill.”
Omar appears to be feeling pessimistic about a fully funded Social Security workforce amid a dysfunctional Congress. “It’s not even can we get a floor vote. It’s that we haven’t even been able to pass bills out of committees,” said Omar.
Unlike the DFL trifecta in the Minnesota Legislature, Republicans have control of the House while Democrats control the Senate. “We cannot pass legislation, specifically funding legislation one party wants. So there have to be changes in strategies,” Omar said.
“Not funding the government is not the right thing to do by our constituents,” Omar said. “I think we will continue down this path that is going to be destructive for so many programs that so many people rely on.”
Another voter asked Omar if she still would endorse President Joe Biden amid Israel’s bombing of Palestinians in occupied Gaza and a brewing crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying, “I was wondering if you’re going continue to endorse Joe Biden for president, as he continuously writes Israel a blank check to continue to commit genocide against Palestinians?”
“It looks like Biden is going to be the nominee for our party to win the election,” Omar said. “If there is a path forward we can find together to addressing a lot of the issues that we have, it is my job to push the president to do the right thing.”
This comes amid a campaign that started in Dearborn, Michigan, where voters were encouraged to vote “uncommitted” in the Democratic primary against President Biden.
Minneapolis City Council Member Aisha Chughtai and St. Paul City Council Member Mitra Jalali also asked voters to vote “uncommitted” in the March 5 Super Tuesday primary.

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