Rep. Tom Reed has proposed an amendment to the House Rules that will limit the way Congress funds the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. SSDI is expected to have 81% of the funds it needs to fulfill their legal responsibility to support disabled workers. Rep. Reed is worried that the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) will plan to transfer funds from the Retirement portion of Social Security to the Disability portion. He finds that unacceptable. He is concerned about the “Retired taxpayers who have paid into the system for years” not having enough money to cover their benefits. The amendment he sponsored will not allow the reallocation of money between the two Trust Funds. The amendment only allows raising taxes or lowering benefits. Fat chance that this congress will raise taxes on anything, let alone a Safety Net program, and Reed knows that. Therefore his amendment will cut Social Security benefits. His amendment weakens our Social Security Program.
Let’s look at the facts. Social Security is funded by worker payroll deductions, not by taxes. Presently 5.3% of your hard earned salary goes for “Old Age Survivors Insurance” (Retirees) and 0.9% for Disability Insurance for a total of 6.2% (The employer also responsible for 6.2% of a worker’s salary to Social Security). Disability has been part of Social Security since 1955. They don’t transfer funds from one account to the other; they adjust the new revenue (payroll deductions) to make sure both accounts are solvent. It is NOT the retirees vs the disabled. That is called “reallocation of funds”, it is not uncommon; it has been done 11 times since 1968, that’s about once every four years. In 1979, 1980, 1983, 1984 and 1997 the Disability Insurance Fund’s rate was lowered and the Retirement Insurance Fund’s rate was increased. Reed’s proposal, by not allowing the reallocation, will insure the SSDI will not have enough funds to fully support the disabled workers.
Rep. Reed feels that too many people are receiving disability payments. He claims there is fraud and abuse in the system. (That’s a topic for another time). The Corning Leader reported that he would like to see changes to how disabilities are defined; that “people receiving money from the program should be those with genuine ‘catastrophic’ disabilities, those who ‘can’t find a job anywhere in America because of that disability.’ ”
Reed’s statement is scary. It shows how naive and unrealistic he is about a devastating situation in a person’s life. Does he really think if a wheel-chair bound fifty-five year old diabetic turned down a minimum wage job stuffing envelopes in Alaska, that person should not qualify for disability insurance? A trained medical professional, not a politician, should decide what constitutes a disability.
Social Security’s definition of Disability is: “For adults applying for disability, being disabled means that you are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment. The disability must have lasted or be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.”
Social Security’s definition acknowledges that some disabilities may improve— seizures may occur less frequently and/or be less severe. Medical treatment, exercise, surgeries may strengthen the body and lessen the affect of the disability. SSA regularly reviews cases and can change a previously disabled worker’s status.
A person needs to earn enough work credits to qualify for Social Security, be it Social Security Retirement or Social Security Disability. Presently you can collect a reduced Social Security retirement amount at 62, or a full amount at 65 (unless you are born in 1960 or later, then full retirement is 67).
The typical disability application takes between 90 and 120 days to process. The applicants need to provide the Social Security with timely, accurate, and through medical evidence as well as information about their working career. After Social Security agents receive and analyze the information they schedule at least two different appointment with SSA’s physicians. This information is analyzed, and a Claim Agent either approves or deny the application. Social Security denies approximately two-thirds of the applications each year.
Many people enter the work force around age 22. Suppose one works for 30 years, and then is a victim of an accident, or contacts a debilitating disease. He can not work. He has paid 6.2% of his salary to Social Security. If there is not SSDI he would not be able to receive benefits until age 62. How does he survive? He can’t go on unemployment—-those on unemployment need to be looking for a job weekly. Is this what Rep. Reed wants for his constituents?
Rep. Reed has received media recognition because the House Republicans passed his rule amendment—LA Times, Dailykos, US News & World Report, ABC News, Politicofact, Talking Points Memo and others have mentioned him and his Social Security amendment. He was quoted in a NPR report. Martha Robertson, who ran against Rep. Reed was on the Thom Hartman radio program on Thursday, January 15, speaking against the House Rule amendment.
Social Security is a complication issue. If the GOP lead Congress feels it has to change Social Security, there are many other approaches than reduce funding for Disability Insurance. Those will be explored in an upcoming article.
Besides the links above, I used information from “Nolo’s Guide to Social Security Disability”, by David A. Morton III, NOLO Publishing Co, Berkeley, California. 2014.