Whitehouse and Langevin Fighting to Protect Social Security Disability Benefits

Today U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Jim Langevin held a roundtable discussion at Community Action Partnership of Providence to hear about the need to protect the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. Whitehouse and Langevin were joined by State Senator Donna Nesselbush, a leading disability attorney and advocate in the state, as well as SSDI recipients, disability groups, representatives from the Social Security Administration, and Melissa Husband, Executive Director of the Community Action Partnership of Providence.

The Social Security Administration predicts that the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund will be exhausted during the fourth quarter of 2016, at which point beneficiaries could see up to a twenty percent cut in benefits. Whitehouse and Langevin argue that by shifting a very small percentage of the Social Security payroll tax from the retirement trust fund to the disability trust fund, we could ensure that SSDI is solvent well beyond 2016. Republicans in Congress are trying to prevent such a transfer, setting up a dangerous stand-off that must be resolved before the program’s Trust Fund is exhausted. Whitehouse and Langevin also support a longer-term solution that would fully fund the retirement and disability programs by lifting the cap on the amount of income that is subject to the payroll taxes that fund the program.

“Right now, a millionaire hedge-fund manager pays the same amount of taxes into the Social Security system as someone who makes $118,500,” said Whitehouse. “The Rhode Islanders we heard from today count on SSDI to make ends meet, and deserve to know that those benefits will be there for them in the years ahead. In the short-term, we should rebalance the retirement and disability trust funds just as we’ve done eleven times before, under Democrats and Republicans. Ultimately, we should ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a fair share into the program, so that it’s not funded disproportionately on the backs of middle-class workers.”

“SSDI is not only a critical safety-net for disabled workers, their children and spouses, it is also a promise we make to everyone who pays into the Social Security trust fund that they won’t be impoverished if they are left with a debilitating condition or disability,” said Congressman Langevin. “The solvency of the trust fund is an issue that needs to be addressed, but we can make progress without sacrificing the wellbeing of our most vulnerable populations, including reforms that raise the tax cap on high income earners to shore up revenue, and helping people with disabilities stay or return to the workforce. I thank Senator Whitehouse for his leadership on this issue and I look forward to working with him to ensure that SSDI is here to stay.”

Social Security is financed through a 12.4 percent payroll tax (split between employees and employers). Of the 12.4 percent, 10.6 percent is allocated to the retirement program, and 1.8 percent is allocated to the DI Trust Fund. In the past, Congress has reallocated funds from one trust fund to the other as the need arose. This has occurred 11 times in the past, and each time reallocation passed with bipartisan support and without controversy. When considered together the trust funds have $2.8 trillion in reserve and are projected to be able to pay benefits through 2033, if a reallocation is allowed.

Approximately 10.2 million Americans received SSDI benefits in 2013, including roughly 42,000 Rhode Islanders. In order to qualify, beneficiaries are required to have worked in a job covered by Social Security, and must have been unable to work for a year or more due to a disability.