Legislative Update: November 2015

Legislative Update: November 2015

Here’s What Older Voters DON'T Support To Fix Social Security Disability

By Jessie Gibbons, Senior Policy Analyst

Next December – just one year from now – Social Security’s Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund is projected to become insolvent. Although the Social Security trust fund that pays retirement benefits is still projected to remain solvent through 2034, the disability fund operates separately and its funds are running low.

Since 2009 the disability program has paid out more in benefits than it receives in payroll tax revenues and the special I.O.U. reserves held by that trust fund have been dropping. During this period the disability program has relied on those reserves to make benefit payments in full and on time, requiring the U.S. Treasury to borrow the money. But now, if Congress fails to take action before the end of next year, 11 million beneficiaries will be hit with a 19 percent cut in benefits.

Recently, two Congressional Committees called upon stakeholders to offer their ideas for strengthening the program’s finances. TSCL submitted a set of recommendations that were based on the results of our recent polls and surveys of older Americans like you. Below are three policy options for which TSCL’s surveys indicate there is NO support. Consequently, TSCL expressed its opposition to these proposals to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Next month, we’ll be sharing the policy priorities that our members and supporters overwhelmingly support.

  • Fix the financing of the Social Security DI program by temporarily transferring funds from the retirement trust fund. TSCL’s members and supporters who have participated in our polls have made it clear that they do not support band - aide approaches like a loan or a simple transfer of funds from the retirement program to the DI program. In a survey that we conducted last summer, less than 1 percent of participants said shifting revenues from one trust fund to another would be the best way to fix the program’s financing. Our members and supporters are well aware of the retirement program’s financial outlook, and they know that it cannot afford a significant loss in revenues. For older Americans, any proposals that would put the retirement program on worse financial footing are off the table.
  • Cut benefits and cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). TSCL’s members and supporters know all too well the difficulties of living on a fixed income, and they adamantly oppose policy options that would reduce benefits for disabled enrollees. Various proposals have been analyzed by agencies like the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) – including lower monthly checks for new beneficiaries and a switch to the “chained” cost-of-living adjustment. Seniors know that seemingly small benefit reductions have compounding effects over the course of one or two decades, and that, with people spending more years in retirement, Social Security beneficiaries simply cannot afford them.
  • Extend the current disability eligibility waiting periods. Currently, once a disabled applicant is approved, they must wait five months before they begin receiving monthly Social Security DI checks and two years before they can enroll in Medicare. Many lawmakers have advocated for longer waiting periods for these beneficiaries in order to reduce program costs. However, TSCL’s members and supporters believe the current wait periods are already too long and that any extension would be irresponsible. In fact, TSCL favors shortened wait periods – particularly for Medicare eligibility – so that disabled beneficiaries have access to quality, affordable healthcare.

Participants in TSCL’s recent polls and surveys have made it clear that they favor a long-term, balanced approach that will strengthen the program responsibly. In next month’s legislative update, we’ll outline the seven policy priorities that TSCL recommended to Congress, so stay tuned. Or if you’d like to read TSCL’s full statement, visit our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org.