Rep. Tom Reed spoke about Social Security on the floor of the House of Representatives last Wednesday, September 9. You can view the five minute speech at the C-Span site. Although he focuses on how to “Help Disability Insurance Recipients Return to Work”, he touched on more Social Security topics and said that Social Security needs to be modernized. Here are the high-lights. He:
- reminds us that Social Security Disability will become insolvent next year
- took credit for c0-sponsoring the rule change that forbids reallocating funds to keep it solvent (which created this un-necessary crisis)
- said he sponsored it because “He Cares” for those on are on Social Security Disability
- reported that Social Secuiry penalizes people returning to work rather trying to incentivize them
- recounted the testimony of Mike Zelley, who has lived in a wheel chair for 36 years after a car accident, to the House Ways and Means Committee on his frustration trying to work and still maintain his disability benefits
- accused Social Security of being an incompetence bureaucracy
- showed a flow chart (The Complexity of Returning To Work (SSDI) see below) of the steps it takes to be able to work and still receive Disability Benefits
- declares “We need to simplify it” (referring to the disabled to return to work and receiving SSDI benefits)
He finished by saying:
“We are offering common sense reforms, out my office, out of the Ways and Means Committee, out of this House, hopefully shortly.
So that what we can do is make sure that those Disability Trust Funds recipients don’t look at a 20% cut in 2016, and we’ll hold them harmless, and make sure we do what is necessary to make sure that our obligations and promises under the Social Security Trust Fund are met to those individuals because that is the right thing to do.
But we can not lose this opportunity to modernize the Social Security Trust Fund to make sure we stand with those who want to return to work and to believe in the American work ethic like we do.”
Reed claims that he, and we will assume the House GOP, plan to modernize Social Security, which seems to mean:
- Stand with those who want to return to work (and believe in the American Work Ethic) and maintain their Disability Benefits
- Have Social Security become a more competent and a less bureaucracy oranization
- To Fund the 20% cuts in SSDI benefits
Background: Since Social Security Disability was approved in 1956 “To be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses) is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA. The amount of monthly earnings considered as SGA depends on the nature of a person’s disability. Presently (2015) the monthly SGA amount is $1090. (Follow this link for more information on Disability and SGA).
Here is the flow chart that Rep. Reed used as a visual aid during his speech. He didn’t state the source of the chart, nor did he explain any of it. He just said, “This is what you have to do in the Social Security Trust Fund in order to go back to work. They have to go through this whole process.”
Social Security is complex. It needs to cover all individual and family situation you can think of to be fair to the recipients and the US laws. Therefore it need complex regulations. Please notice the this flow chart includes Blind (over 55), Self-employed, SSI, Medicare and more categories. I doubt all recipients need to go through all the processes as Rep. Reed stated. If Rep. Reed ‘s common sense reforms can simplify this flow chart and others without harming a group of recipients, go for it!
Mike Zelley, who testified at the Ways and Means Hearing, is now the CEO and President of Michigan’s The Disability Network. (a company that provides services and supports to thousands of people with disabilities in Genesee County and Flint, Michigan). You can read Zelley’s testimony or watch his 21 minute full testimony at the July 9, 2015 Ways and Means Committee Hearing. Zelley was the Senior Vice President of a large bank when he had his car accident. He was married and had six children. He wanted to get back to work. He believes that life is not a spectator sport. He was earning quite a bit more than the $800 per month (in 1979) Disability payment he would have received. He wanted to work AND feels he should be able to receive the SSDI benefits–since he paid into the system for it.
Should Disabled workers who receive SSDI benefits be able to earn unlimited paycheck? Some people would call that fraud. Is this how the GOP wants to change SSDI?
Rep. Reed emphasized the term “America’s Work Ethic” in his speech, and I assume that refers to the disabled workers, like Mr. Zelley, who feels they can go back to work. Does that mean those who don’t go back to work do not demonstrate America’s Work Ethic?
The February 1 Olean Times reported that Rep. Reed said,
“The system (SSDI) is currently black or white. You’re either disabled or you’re not disabled. There’s no temporary, no partial or permanent disability. It’s all drawn from Social Security,” Rep. Reed said. “We’re proposing that those who are temporarily or partially disabled should be placed into another assistance program that will help them get back on their feet, so they aren’t drawing away from Social Security Disability.”
Is Reed’s plan to modernize Social Security by moving “temporarily or partially disabled” Americans out of Social Security and into another bureaucracy, and keeping the “catastrophically” disabled receiving SSDI benefits?
Will that be the way they plan stop SSDI from becoming insolvent next year?
If that is the GOP’s plan to modernize Social Security, I feel it is kind of thin. That might solve the short-term problem for the SSDI, but the whole Social Security system needs a plan to strengthen it for the next generation. There are many options being floated around Congress that affect the whole system–some makes Social Security stronger, some weakens it. There needs to be real discussions between both parties in both branches of Congress before major changes takes.
Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew told Reed that “Long term policies take a long time to have an effect.”
It seems that the sooner the discussion/negotiations start (and end) the sooner we can see a strong Social Security system.