Social Security Disability Benefits in Jeopardy

Social Security is obviously a hot political topic. As the number of beneficiaries expands for demographic reasons, politicians have warned us repeatedly that Social Security’s programs are getting too expensive and that we may soon see cuts.

Some politicians, however, are fighting the conventional wisdom that cuts are inevitable. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D. Mass.) introduced an amendment to the Senate budget resolution last month with the goal of not only ensuring that the programs remain solvent, but also expanding benefits.

The amendment had the almost unanimous vote of Senate Democrats. Furthermore, public opinion polls show that voters “overwhelmingly support” increasing Social Security benefits.

Republicans, however, are dead-set against Social Security expansion. All Senate Republicans opposed Senator Warren’s amendment. Furthermore, House Republicans passed a procedural rule in January that potentially sets up a battle for Social Security.

The battle is over the interaction between Social Security’s retirement and disability funds. In the past, Social Security has been able to transfer money from the retirement fund to the disability fund in order to address any disability benefit shortfalls. (Unfortunately, the disability fund has been shortchanged by Congress.)

However, the new House rule has the effect of stopping any such transfers unless Congress addresses the long-term solvency of Social Security by either raising taxes or cutting benefits. (Naturally, Republicans prefer the latter.)

Why does this rule matter? Well, if the rule stands, and Congress is unable to negotiate a way around it, the Social Security disability fund will run out of money sometime near the end of 2016. All disability beneficiaries will immediately suffer a cut in benefits of 20 percent.

If you currently receive Social Security disability benefits, or may need to apply for them, this is cause for concern. Contact your representatives in Washington and tell them this brinksmanship is unacceptable. It is not fair to punish the disabled because Congress cannot agree on long-term Social Security solutions. And keep this dispute in mind when you vote in November of next year.

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