WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 23, 2015) — The new trustees’ report on the financial condition of the Social Security and Medicare systems released Wednesday should have been mostly good news. But thanks to yet another “fiscal crisis” deliberately manufactured by Republicans in Congress, today’s headlines instead declare: “Social Security disability fund to run dry next year.”
On their very first day of work back in January, House Republicans laid the groundwork for cutting Social Security benefits. In a surprise move, buried in a package of rule changes, they blocked the routine transfer of funds between the Social Security retirement trust fund and the disability program. Congress has approved such transfers 11 times in the past, but now any reallocation must also “improve the overall financial health of the combined Social Security Trust Funds.” That means either new revenue or benefit cuts, and the Republicans who control Congress have no intention of raising revenue.
So yesterday’s financial report — which was otherwise generally good news, including that benefit solvency for Social Security has been extended by another year — declared that the disability trust fund will run out of money in late 2016. That would trigger an automatic 19 percent cut in benefits, unless Congress acts.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement in response to Wednesday’s trustees’ report:
Today’s report should reassure retired and disabled workers, their families and everyone working toward their retirement. On the eve of Social Security’s 80th anniversary, working families now know there are sufficient resources to pay 100% of all promised benefits through 2034. But to make sure disabled workers continue to receive their full benefits, Congress needs to do its job.
We know Republicans in Congress are dragging Social Security into their ploy of creating artificial crises. This time it means harmful cuts aimed at Americans with disabilities. We reject all cuts and attempts to undermine vital elements of Social Security. Instead, today’s report should encourage leaders to build on Social Security’s eight decades of success and adopt legislation to strengthen and expand it.
If Congress fails to act, the automatic 19 percent cut in disability benefits would shave $193 per month from the average beneficiary who currently receives $1,017 per month.
In January, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is now running for president, suggested that a lot of slackers are on disability, joking that half of them are either anxious or their back hurts.
A more typical story about a Social Security disability beneficiary would be Gina Owens’ story. A spinal injury from a car accident left her disabled and unable to work. After her daughter died, she now must support herself and her three grandchildren on her modest disability checks. Owens says:
I do not know what I would do if my benefits were cut by 20 percent due to a congressional rule change. I spend about $300 of my current monthly benefits on food and I already only take about half of the medications I am supposed to in order to reduce expenses. I have nothing else to cut back on. If I lost hundreds of dollars because Congress is out of touch with their constituents’ needs, then my family would suffer immensely.
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