WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 – Republicans in Congress are trying to cut Social Security disability benefits. Retirement payments also could be in jeopardy, Sen. Bernie Sanders warned in a Senate floor speech today. “This is a very bad idea,” Sanders said. “Republicans are manufacturing a crisis where none exists.”
In the budget blueprint that President Barack Obama sent to Congress last month, the White House requested authority to shift funds from Social Security’s retirement account to the disability fund. Unless Congress goes along, the disabled and their children are in store for a 19 percent cut in benefits next year.
This year’s White House budget request sought the same non-controversial bookkeeping measure that has happened 11 times before. It happened under Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon; Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. “In other words this is a totally noncontroversial act done time and time again under Democratic presidents and Republican presidents,” Sanders said.
This year, however, the House of Representatives, on the first day of the new session of Congress, adopted a rule that severely restricts such transfers. A hearing on the disability program has been scheduled for next Wednesday by the Senate Budget Committee, on which Sanders is the ranking member.
Sanders warned that some in Congress are trying to drive a wedge between seniors and the disabled by contending, wrongly, that reallocating money would hurt seniors. “This is absolutely untrue,” Sanders said. If the funds are rebalanced, there still would be enough in reserve to pay benefits for all retirees and every disabled American for the next 18 years. He also noted that virtually every organization of seniors supports the reallocation. He read letters from AARP and the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, which includes the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the Alliance for Retired Americans, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and many other organizations.
About 18.5 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries are disabled workers and their dependents. Last year, nearly 11 million individuals received disability payments, including nearly 9 million workers and 1.8 million children of a disabled parent. The average benefit is around $1,150, or about $35 a day, barely above the poverty line. Disability Insurance keeps 4 million disabled workers out of poverty each year. It also is the main source of income for workers still living in poverty.