The Trump administration has been attempting to spin its proposed $64 billion in cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance as somehow not cutting Social Security. Some in the media have parroted the White House line. “Trump’s Budget Slashes Spending, Leaves Social Security & Medicare Untouched,” declared a headline from Fox Business News. A CNN Money correspondent told Wolf Blitzer that Trump’s budget “doesn’t touch Social Security.”
News flash: Just because the Trump budget doesn’t cut retirement benefits doesn’t mean it leaves Social Security untouched. Social Security Disability Insurance is part of Social Security. Period. (Note the words “Social Security” in the program’s name.) SSDI is funded by workers’ Social Security payroll tax contributions – just like retirement benefits. Qualifying disability beneficiaries must meet certain work history requirements, same as they do for retirement benefits. When SSDI recipients reach retirement age, they transition seamlessly into the Social Security retirement program. In no way is SSDI separable from Social Security.
Make no mistake: the $64 billion in SSDI cuts are very real – and would cause real pain for Americans with severe disabilities. These are people deemed by the Social Security Administration to be too disabled to work. The qualification requirements are stringent, and the cases dire. Though SSDI helps younger Americans, too, most of its beneficiaries are 55 or over – meaning any cuts to the program will hit older Americans particularly hard. In fact, an average 1 in 6 men on SSDI die within 5 years of claiming benefits. For women, the figure is 1 in 7.
The human consequences do not seem to disturb the President’s Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, as is obvious from this exchange with a reporter in the White House press room:
Reporter: Will any of those individuals who receive SSDI receive less from this budget?
Mulvaney: I hope so.
Mulvaney clarified that he thought the program has been enrolling too many people and called for cuts in the number of enrollees, even though that number has been shrinking.
Here are some of the draconian budget cutting measures the Trump administrations wants to impose on SSDI recipients:
*Imposing punitive work requirements
*Cutting benefits by $10 billion
*Offsetting overlapping unemployment & disability benefits
$48 billion in cuts would come from a vague proposal to “test new approaches to increase labor force participation.” But the Social Security Administration has undertaken many demonstration projects over the years to test new ways to encourage beneficiaries to return to work, and they have consistently shown limited results or proven not cost-effective.
Cutting benefits for Americans with disabilities fits right in with the cruel theme running through the President’s entire budget, which decimates programs for society’s most vulnerable citizens in order to give the rich and big corporations a massive tax cut. In addition to SSDI, the Trump budget guts Medicaid, and cuts funding for other programs benefitting seniors including Meals on Wheels, home heating assistance, and the State Health Insurance Program (SHIP), which helps seniors navigate Medicare.
Trump apologists who say that SSDI does not count as Social Security are trying to let the President off the hook on his campaign promise not to touch Social Security. But like other Trump campaign pledges – including protecting Medicare and Medicaid – there is no getting around the truth. This President’s promises to older Americans – including those with disabilities – are proving to be quite hollow.
Max Richtman is President & CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. He is former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Aging.