One of Congress’ strongest champions for strengthening and boosting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is Rep. Gwen Moore from Wisconsin. Congresswoman Moore has also been an effective voice in Congress for measures that focus on improving the economic and employment conditions in low-income communities. We’re so glad she’s agreed to share her views with us on the current Congress, Black History month and recent attempts to target Americans with disabilities by the GOP leadership in the House.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI)
Each February, we are reminded of our country’s greatest African American leaders with the celebration of Black History Month. Black History Month provides us an opportunity not only to reflect on those who advocate on behalf of the African American community, but also to examine the critical concerns and issues facing African Americans today. Even with all of the progress made over the past half-century, African Americans still represent a disproportionate share of our nation’s poor. As we work to change the underlying causes for this reality, we must also make sure we’re providing an adequate safety net to prevent further harm of those who are already struggling to get by.
There is no program more vital to protecting those who are battling poverty than Social Security. Not only is Social Security responsible for allowing millions of Americans to enjoy a comfortable retirement after a life of hard work, but also provides insurance for more than 90% of American workers in the event of a debilitating accident or illness through the Disability Insurance program.
On the first day of the 114th Congress, House Republicans pushed through a rule change regarding the Social Security trust funds that would prevent the routine transfer of funds between the retirement and disability accounts. Without the ability to transfer funds, the Disability Trust Fund will be forced to cut all benefits by 20% in 2016. That’s 20% from a paycheck that already is not enough to keep 1.6 million people out of poverty.
A harsh truth we must come to terms with is that one out of every three young workers new to the labor force will either die or need Disability Insurance before they turn 67. Those odds get even worse for African American workers, who make up a disproportionate percentage of Disability Insurance beneficiaries. An unexpected disability or illness can be devastating to an individual or family, but the Disability Insurance program supplies protection to soften the blow of an immediate loss of income. While the benefits are modest, averaging around $1100 a month, they still represent the main or only source of income for over 80% of beneficiaries. Nearly one in five beneficiaries live in poverty, which translates to roughly 1.6 million people, or approximately the population of greater metropolitan Milwaukee, my home city.
Obviously, this critical program needs more funding, but my congressional colleagues across the aisle continue to stand in the way. The rule change proposed by House Republicans was slipped under the wire as a procedural fix. But let’s call it what it is: a brazen attack on our nation’s most vulnerable. These are people who paid their dues to Social Security while they were in the labor force who are now in need of the services they paid into.
Now is not the time to weaken the Disability Insurance program, but rather we should be strengthening it. One of the major lingering effects of the recession is the sharp increase in long-term unemployment. While this number is now on the decline for the overall population, disabled workers continue to struggle to find gainful employment. Cutting what meager benefits they have now would be a death sentence.
This Black History Month, instead of only reflecting on the African Americans of the past, we should also make sure we are taking care of the African Americans of today and tomorrow. Cutting benefits to the Disability Insurance program would disproportionately affect African Americans. I believe in a vision of government where we take care of those who have fallen on hard times due to disability. Black History Month serves as a good means to highlight these issues, but I will keep fighting for this vision all year-round, day-in and day-out, until every American receives the assistance they need to live a prosperous life.