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Social Security’s Past, Present and Future

As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of Social Security, it is time to recall its contribution to the economic security of America’s working families, and to look toward its future.

Remarkably, for 80 years, through numerous wars and recessions, Social Security has never missed a payment, and has never contributed a penny to the federal debt. Self-financed through contributions by workers and their employers – augmented since 1983 by taxes on benefits – with its annual surpluses invested in U.S. Treasury Bonds, Social Security is walled off from the tumult of both the stock market and annual appropriations battles. While the rest of the government can – and does – accumulate debt, Social Security must, by law, live within its means.

August 13th, 2015|

Disability Insurance: Clarifying the Choices

Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) is much in the news these days. It can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Here are some key points to keep in mind.

DI Basics
DI provides essential wage-replacement income to workers who have lost their capacity to earn a living due to the onset of a severe, long-term disability. The DI definition of disability is very strict: a medical condition that prevents an individual from performing basic work activities for at least 12 months or that ends in death.

Although benefits are modest ($1,145 a month on average), more than half of disabled worker beneficiaries rely on these benefits for 75% or more of their total income.

January 28th, 2015|

A Call for Proposals to Improve the Social Security Disability Insurance Program

My colleagues and I at the CRFB have been working on an initiative, led by former Congressmen Earl Pomeroy and Jim McCrery, to identify and put forward meaningful improvements that could be made to the SSDI program. The McCrery-Pomeroy SSDI Solutions Initiative hopes to generate the types of reforms that could accompany reallocation, interfund borrowing, or (preferably) a comprehensive Social Security reform package.

As part of the initiative, we have spoken with program experts, advocates, and practitioners of all different perspectives and ideologies. These discussions confirmed what we already knew to be the case: the SSDI program provides a vital support structure for many workers with disabilities and their families. But they also identified several areas where the program and the government could be doing better.

October 9th, 2014|

Putting a Human Face on Disability Insurance

All too often, inside-the-Beltway policy debates focus on dollars and deficits rather than on the millions of real people and real lives that are affected. That’s why it was refreshing to read Michael Hiltzik’s April 2 Los Angeles Times column (“Does Congress have the heart to avert disability crisis?”), which included several stories from real people who rely on Social Security disability insurance.

One of the people quoted in that article was Kira Fisher:

April 5th, 2013|

What does the Report of the Fiscal Commission’s Co-Chairs Mean for Social Security?

Social Security changes recommended by the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (NCFRR) on December 1, 2010  include: extending coverage (to uncovered state and local employees); three benefit reductions (affecting the benefit formula, cost of living adjustments, and retirement age); two benefit increases (a new special minimum and a 5 percent boost for longtime recipients); and a revenue increase (lifting the cap on taxable wages). In addition, the recommendation to lower personal income tax rates would reduce revenues to Social Security funds from the taxation of benefits.

December 2nd, 2010|

Social Security and Budget Deficits: Don’t Lose Sight of the Facts

With the release of the new Social Security Trustees annual report, we can expect to hear sharp debates on Social Security’s financial picture. We must ensure these discussions do not lose sight of some important facts. Despite concerns about Social Security’s long-term stability, the truth is that the program is in good financial shape and, with some sensible improvements, will continue to provide security to millions of American’s for generations to come

As in previous recessions, Social Security income and outgo today are performing as they were designed, as a counter-cyclical insurance program. That is, with more people out of work, contributions from wages decrease and more program participants retire sooner than they had planned. These facts are not a cause for alarm. Rather, they demonstrate the insurance function of Social Security and how critical it is to the economic security of American workers and their families.

August 5th, 2010|

Easing the Impact of Increasing the Retirement Age: Occupational Disability

Legislation in 1983 increased from 65 to 67 the age at which Social Security pays full retirement benefits. The change lowers retirement benefits at each age they are claimed. Disabled-worker benefits remain unreduced, but are not available to individuals who fail to meet a strict test – “inability to engage in any gainful activity” – yet are unable to continue in their jobs. Strengthening Social Security for Workers in Physically Demanding Occupations proposes a benefit for such individuals based on an occupational disability test – “inability to perform the essential duties of one’s current occupation.” Making such an occupational disability benefit available at age 62 could protect recipients from retired-worker benefit reductions (or part of such reductions) due to increasing the full benefit age.

April 8th, 2009|

Helping Homeless Individuals with Serious Mental Illness Get Disability Benefits

Social Security and SSI disability benefits are often the main sources of stable income for people who have serious mental illness. Individuals who are homeless face particular barriers in navigating the application process. They typically lack a mailing address, transportation, and a treatment history from accepted medical sources (physicians or licensed psychologists).

April 3rd, 2009|
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