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Fight to Stave Off Cuts to SSDI Program Begins

The Social Security Disability Insurance benefits program has long been a punching bag of politicians seeking popularity by preying on common misconceptions about the program.
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Opponents seeking to slash the program argue benefits are too easy to obtain, workers who receive benefits aren’t really as disabled as they purport and the government spends way too much money on the program.

In reality, it’s tough to secure benefits, and only a small percentage of those who apply are approved during the first round. The guidelines for approval are stringent, and those who ultimately secure benefits are often quite ill. Not only that, they are former workers who have paid into the program.

Still, our Boston SSDI lawyers recognize it’s easy target for some in Congress.

Most recently, the Senate Budget Committee is slated to hold a hearing entitled, “The coming crisis: Social Security Trust Fund Insolvency.” The committee, it should be noted, is controlled by Republicans seeking to initiate the first in a series of battles over the safety net’s future.

Democrats are calling the effort a “stealth attack” on the program, using language such as “entitlement reform” to mask the real intent, which is significant reductions in Social Security and Medicare benefits. Indeed, they cite on-the-record comments from politicians like Rand Paul, who was quoted as saying half of SSDI recipients are “either anxious or their back hurts” – an assertion that was later disproved and for which Paul apologized. Still, this kind of mis-characterization bordering on slander is common.

The Democrats are largely basing their arguments on a recent rules change by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives that would severely curtail the ability to fund the SSDI program through a reallocation of funds from the larger Social Security’s overall retirement fund. It’s true that the reserve funds for disability benefits are on track to run low in 2016, which could ultimately mean current beneficiaries could see significant, multi-million-dollar program cuts.

In fact, without a reallocation of funds, the program, currently funded by payroll tax receipts, will only cover about 80 percent of current benefits. That would mean a roughly 20 percent cut in benefits to each recipient. So a disabled worker who now receives a stipend of $1,165 a month will see that figure reduced to approximately $930 a month.

Republicans, meanwhile, have shot back that the reallocation plan does nothing but “kick the can down the road.” By denying a reallocation of funds, they say, legislators will be forced to deal with the important and necessary issue of long-term financial security for the program. They further say reallocation weakens the retirement program for seniors.

Democrats deride this argument, saying the so-called crisis is “phony,” and the goal of opponents is to force cuts to the disability fund that are not only immediate but unnecessary. Further, they accuse Republicans of a “divide-and-conquer” strategy that pits senior citizens against disabled workers.

President Obama’s latest budget proposal calls simply for a reallocation of funds, and those in his party say they are willing to fight to make sure his budget is approved. The Republican-proposed budget, meanwhile, promises balance within a decade absent any additional revenues from the wealthiest among us, which means it’s likely to require severe cuts to programs like SSDI.

The latest SSDI program hearing is likely just the start of what we expect to be a drawn-out fight over the issue.

If you or a loved one is seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:
Obama pushes back against GOP assault on Social Security disability, Feb. 3, 2015, By Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times
More Blog Entries:
Congress Ready to Fight Over SSDI Funding, Jan. 18, 2015, Boston Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog