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S. 1845 – A Proposal to Slash Disabled Benefits to Pay for Unemployment

Senate Republicans and Democrats alike are throwing their support behind S. 1845, a measure that would pilfer money set aside for disabled workers in order extend benefits to those who can’t find work.
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It’s a horrible idea.

For one thing, it’s predicated on the idea that somehow the Social Security Disability Insurance program has excess money to spare. In 2012, the total disability insurance expenditures topped $135 billion (that includes costs for staff, judges, etc.). That sounds like a lot, until you begin to consider that the trust fund for the program is projected to be exhausted in just two years. Legislators still haven’t offered a concrete plan to address this issue.

Also, while there are approximately 8.9 million Americans receiving disability benefits right now, the average monthly check is only $1,130.

No one is getting wealthy here.

Those filing for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits in Boston and throughout the country are doing so because it is critical to their financial survival. They cannot work. Most are already mired in poverty and/or debt accrued because they can’t work. These benefits don’t simply serve to supplement their income – the benefits are the income. That check allows them to keep a roof of their family’s head and food on the table.

All of this is not to mention, of course, that those who endure the stringent process of being approved for benefits actually paid into the program as workers. It’s not a hand-out. It’s an insurance program.

Of course, unemployment benefits are an equally important social safety net, and Congress has a responsibility to address shortfalls in that area. But is taking money from the disabled really our only option?

It’s estimated that by taking the steps proposed in S. 1845, the government will be able to save about $100 million in the federal budget. Again, sounds like a lot. In truth, it’s less than three-thousandths of one percent of the yearly annual federal budget.

While we understand that smart financial decisions and fiscal responsibility in Washington have to start somewhere, it troubling that the place we start is in the pockets of the disabled.

Supporters of the bill have pointed to “double-dipping” by disabled workers, some of whom do sometimes pick up part-time employment in order to test their ability to return to the job market and ease their transition back into the workforce. But this does not mean beneficiaries are getting some kind of free ride. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that the most a disabled beneficiary can earn in a single month without jeopardizing benefits is $1,070.

So let’s assume you earned that plus the average $1,130 in benefits; You’re still talking about poverty-level earnings for a family of four.

The other reason the proposal in S. 1845 is so disturbing is that it sets an alarming trend wherein it’s deemed acceptable to dip into Social Security benefits in order to cover the costs of other social safety net programs.

We would encourage you to contact your legislators in the Senate to express your opposition to S. 1845.

If you are considering filing for SSDI in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:
An awful idea: Hammer the disabled to pay for unemployment benefits, Jan. 10, 2014, By Michael Hiltzik, The Los Angeles Times
More Blog Entries:
Bates v. Astrue – Persistence Pays in Battle for Federal Benefits, Dec. 13, 2013, Boston Social Security Disability Insurance Lawyer Blog