President Trump’s just-released 2021 budget proposal would leave seniors and other vulnerable citizens hungrier, sicker, and poorer. The spending plan betrays the president’s promises “not to touch” Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The administration wants to slash $478 billion from Medicare over a decade, which could compromise health care access for millions of seniors. It would gut Medicaid with some $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years, undermining older Americans’ access to long-term care. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) also would be slashed. Other cold-hearted cuts include the elimination of grants that feed low income seniors and help keep their homes heated in the winter. Though the budget proposal likely won’t be adopted by Congress, it does reveal the president’s cruel priorities heading into the 2020 election.
“One would hope that in an election year when politicians like to put forward their most popular ideas, the President would understand the benefits of protecting our most cherished income and health security programs. It’s time he delivers what the American people have been asking for, as indicated by poll after poll, and not the dangerous proposals of his fiscal axe-men.”- Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
Among other things, the President’s FY 2021 budget:
Cuts $478 billion from Medicare over ten years.
Cuts Social Security [Disability Insurance and SSI] benefits by 90 billion over 10 years.
Cuts $1 trillion from Medicaid and Affordable Care Act subsidies over ten years.
Eliminates all federal block grant programs that help to fund Meals on Wheels.
Eliminates the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Eliminates the Senior Community Service Employment Program
“This budget foreshadows a broader attack on seniors’ earned benefits that President Trump hinted at in a recent interview, when he said that cutting ‘entitlements’ is ‘the easiest of all things.’ Our most vulnerable citizens should not be expected to pay for policies that favor the wealthy and big corporations, most notably the Trump/GOP tax cuts of 2017,” said National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman.
National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman issued the following statement in response to last night’s State of the Union address:
“President Trump paid lip service to preserving Social Security in his State of the Union address tonight, but obscured his true intentions regarding a program that covers 178 million workers — and which another 64 million Americans depend on for basic financial security. The President owed it to the American people tonight to honestly explain his plans for the program’s future, including his recent comments that he would consider cutting ‘entitlements’ because ‘it’s the easiest thing to do.’ By failing to be forthright, President Trump empowers fiscal hawks who want to slash and privatize the program, while breaking his campaign promise to protect seniors’ earned benefits.
In touting a ‘strong’ economy, the President ignores the $1.6 trillion in annual economic stimulus that Social Security benefits provide. The President should realize that cutting Social Security would hurt the vaunted ‘Trump economy.’
The President also was not forthcoming tonight about his efforts to reduce prescription drug prices. He has failed to support legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate costs directly with Big Pharma. His own proposals have been weak, tossed out by the courts, or withdrawn. President Trump has yet to demonstrate a willingness to take on Big Pharma in a meaningful way, preferring to work around the edges. If our economy is as prosperous as President Trump claims, then why are so many citizens cutting pills or forgoing the groceries they need to feed their families? We must take concrete action now to lower exorbitant drug prices. Congress should pass meaningful prescription drug legislation now, and President Trump should sign it into law.
President Trump did little tonight to reassure seniors and their families that he will protect their financial and health security. His administration will continue to favor the wealthy and large corporations, while targeting Americans’ earned benefits and tearing away at the social safety net. For a president who seeks re-election, he clearly is on the wrong side of these life and death issues.”
Calling a proposed new Trump administration rule a “brutal and vile attack on the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) system,” lawmakers and advocates pledged on Tuesday to fight back “with all their might.” The Social Security Administration wants to impose a new layer of disability review on SSDI beneficiaries – effectively forcing them to “re-prove” their disabilities every two years. This new step (which advocates say amounts to an “audit”) will compel beneficiaries living on fixed incomes to produce additional medical and financial records – and could ultimately strip millions of their disability benefits.
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) joined representatives from national seniors and disability organizations on Capitol Hill to passionately denounce the new rule.
“This proposal is wrong. It’s a mistake. And it’s adverse to people with disabilities.” – Sen. Bob Casey, 1/28/20
“This new rule is cruel, wrong, and not in keeping with our vision of a just society.” – Rep. Brendan Boyle, 1/28/20
“There is no other reason for this rule than cruelty or mean-spiritedness. We need to energetically push back.” – Sen. Sherrod Brown, 1/28/20
Forty-one Senators (including Casey and Brown) have sent a letter to the Social Security Administration opposing the “harmful and unnecessary” rule. On the other side of the Hill, more than 100 members of Congress (including Rep. Boyle), signed a similar letter demanding the administration reverse course.
The public has a chance to comment on the new rule through the end of the work week. Lawmakers and advocates urged concerned Americans to make their voices heard before it’s too late. They point out that roughly one third of American households include a person with disabilities who currently rely on SSDI benefits or may at some point in the future.
The lawmakers accuse the administration of intentionally undermining the Social Security program through administrative action (or, as Senator Casey put it, “Death by a thousand cuts”), knowing that legislative ‘reforms’ would be overwhelmingly unpopular with the public. (GOP Senator Joni Ernst famously proposed the problem be solved “behind closed doors.’)
Advocates took special umbrage at the fact that the current Social Security Disability review process is already overly burdensome for beneficiaries.
“They’re going to use an already flawed process to harm older Americans and children,” said Jonathan Stein, Executive Director Emeritus at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.
Stein pointed out that the Reagan administration imposed a similar rule that wracked “devastation on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people” in the 80s and was ultimately revoked under public pressure. The Trump administration’s rule, he says, represents a “replay of this terrible history.”
Advocates believe the Trump administration’s apparent enmity toward programs that help society’s most vulnerable is mainly ideological. The objective, they say, is to cut safety net programs (including Social Security, which is 100% self-funded) in order to re-distribute wealth to the rich, noting that the deficit-swelling Trump/GOP tax cuts mostly benefitted the top 1%.
To some extent, this latest scheme capitalizes on common misperceptions that federal disability recipients are somehow scamming the system. To the contrary, Rebecca Cokley of the Center for American Progress reminds the public that disability beneficiaries are “not fakers, takers, or money makers.” It is incredibly difficult to receive SSDI (six in ten claimants are rejected). The average monthly SSDI benefit is a mere $1,200 or roughly $14,000 annually. (The federal poverty level is about $12,500.) Some disabled beneficiaries receive significantly less. Beneficiaries already undergo periodic disability reviews for which they must produce medical records and other documentation, usually without any outside help.
Adding the new level of review will cost the government nearly $2 billion, without producing significant net cost savings. Yet the proposed rule will snag more than 2.6 million disabled Americans, many of whom could be stripped of their benefits (though Rep. Boyle accused the administration of hiding the projected numbers).
“Ultimately,” said Rep. Boyle, “We will figure out the human toll of misery” that the new rule exacts on children, older adults, and other Americans with disabilities – unless, of course, the public lets the Trump administration know by Friday that its mean-spirited proposal is completely unacceptable.
The National Committee urges anyone opposing President Trump’s disability rule to comment here.
We have just witnessed the seventh Democratic presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle without a single question about Social Security. The candidates tussled over foreign and domestic policy, but no one mentioned the program that 64 million Americans depend on for basic financial security – at a pivotal time when Social Security could be expanded and strengthened, or weakened and cut.
“I thought the moderators would, at long last, ask the candidates about Social Security,” said National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman, who attended last night’s debate at Drake University in Des Moines. “Needless to say, I was very disappointed.”
On Tuesday, the Des Moines Register (which cosponsored the debate with CNN) published an op-ed by Richtman and former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, insisting that Social Security receive the attention it warrants:
As President Franklin Roosevelt made clear when he signed Social Security into law, the program is a ‘cornerstone in a structure… which is by no means complete.’ He understood that the program would need to be expanded over time. Presidential contenders in the party of Franklin Roosevelt must be asked about Social Security’s future on the debate stage. Seniors deserve to hear their answers. – Fmr. Senator Tom Harkin and National Committee President Max Richtman, Des Moines Register
For the past seven months, the National Committee has repeatedly called upon debate moderators to ask the candidates about their plans for Social Security, but once again those appeals have fallen on deaf ears.
Most of the Democratic presidential candidates have touted their own proposals for boosting and strengthening Social Security on the campaign trail, but debate-watchers may not be aware.
Much is at stake for current and future retirees, the disabled, and their families. Just one day before the debate, the National Institute on Retirement Security released a new report which found that 40% of older Americans rely entirely on Social Security for retirement income. (Only 7% receive income from Social Security, a pension, and a defined contribution account like a 401K.) The average monthly benefit of $1,500 is barely sufficient to keep many seniors out of poverty. That’s why the National Committee endorses legislation that would give seniors a boost in benefits while keeping Social Security financially healthy through the end of the century.
Meanwhile, prominent conservatives – from Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell – have called for Americans’ earned benefits to be “reformed” (which really means cut and privatized). These “reformers” blame the swelling national debt on Social Security, even though the program is self-funded. In fact, ‘tax expenditures’ – especially the Trump/GOP tax cuts of 2017 – are the main driver of the federal debt. The Democratic presidential candidates should rebuke this ploy to cut benefits. The debates provide a platform with millions of viewers who need to know.
Although the candidates did not address Social Security last night, they did confront another issue that disproportionately impacts older Americans – soaring prescription drug prices.
“Senator Elizabeth Warren doubled down on a pledge to lower drug prices on her first day as president, using executive action to make it easier for generic drug makers to move in on brand-name drugs that were created using federally funded research.” – Stat News, 1/14/20
Candidates Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Bernie Sanders joined Warren in pledging to lower drug prices by various means, including price controls and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug costs with pharmaceutical companies. Senator Klobuchar also raised another crucial issue for seniors – the lack of affordable long-term care insurance:
“What should we do about long-term care, the elephant that doesn’t even fit in this room? We need to make it easier for people to get long-term care insurance. We need to make it easier for them to pay for their premiums.” – Sen. Amy Klobuchar, 1/14/20
“I was glad to see some of the candidates address prescription drug prices and long-term care,” said Richtman. “But the upcoming primary debates must include one of our most important social insurance programs, Social Security. We’ve been trying to put this on the radar for so long, and we’re going to keep trying.”
Advocates for seniors and the disabled – including the National Committee – are increasingly concerned about a proposed Trump administration rule regarding Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). These are periodic reviews conducted by the Social Security Administration to determine beneficiaries’ ongoing eligibility for SSDI benefits. The proposed rule would add a new level of CDR, which could result not only in unnecessary red tape and stress for beneficiaries, but also a loss of benefits for some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Disabled claimants’ cases currently are subject to periodic review depending on their assessed prognoses:
Medical Improvement Expected: Cases are reviewed every 6 months to 2 years
Medical Improvement Possible: Cases are reviewed at least every 3 years
Medical Improvement Not Expected: Cases are reviewed at least every 7 years.
The new rule imposes an additional layer of review: Medical Improvement Likely. Beneficiaries suffering from disabilities as diverse as leukemia and severe anxiety would be subject to these new reviews. Claimants who fall into this new category would be reviewed at least every 2 years – creating a new hurdle to continue receiving benefits. This is neither necessary or fair.
SSDI beneficiaries are among America’s most health insecure and financially challenged citizens. Beneficiaries undergoing CDRs have at least one severe disability. These claimants typically are older, poorer, less educated, and housing insecure. They are at least three times as likely to die within a year as other people the same age. The last thing they need is to be compelled to provide more CDR paperwork and medical records, which can also be a financial burden.
“Advocates for recipients say that the ‘medical improvement likely’ category appears to make no sense. In general, medical conditions deteriorate as people age, especially those who have limited resources. Compelling (these) recipients through a review every two years will make it even more difficult for them to comply with the review process, putting their benefit eligibility in jeopardy.” – Forbes, 12/17/19
As Rep. John Larson (D-CT) pointed out this week, the proposed rule particularly would impact the nation’s disabled veterans:
“Increasing the frequency of the reviews would force beneficiaries to go through a complex process that they may not be able to navigate, resulting in them losing their disability benefits even though nothing medically has changed. This would be devastating to impacted veterans, who rely on the Social Security disability benefits they have earned to put food on the table and a roof over their families’ heads.” – Rep. John Larson, 1/09/20
So far, there is no evidence that the administration proposal would improve the integrity of SSDI or help beneficiaries. In fact, the National Committee estimates that the new system would produce negligible cost savings because of the resources necessary to conduct additional Continuing Disability Reviews.
It’s reasonable to conclude, then, that the proposed rule is part of the Trump administration’s apparent indifference – or outright disdain – toward Americans on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. The proposed rule is likely driven by the same ideological agenda behind the administration’s efforts to strip Americans of affordable, quality health coverage, to cut federal programs that feed the poor and elderly, and to impose new requirements that could force millions from Medicaid rolls. A compassionate cost/benefit analysis does not justify the imposition of fresh burdens on citizens with disabilities. Advocates and beneficiaries rightly oppose this rule and will continue to exert pressure against its enactment.