Senator Bob Casey spearheads event to protest Trump administration disability rule

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.

Senator Sherrod Brown Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Senator Sherrod Brown:  “There is no other reason for this rule than cruelty or mean-spiritedness.”

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%.

Fewer than half of disability insurance applications are ultimately allowed

Social Security Disability Insurance is incredibly difficult to obtain (Source: Center for Budget and Policy Priorities)

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.

Rebecca Cokley of the Center for American Progress: “Disability beneficiaries are not ‘fakers, takers, or money-makers.'”

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.

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The National Committee urges anyone opposing President Trump’s disability rule to comment here.

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