The Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced a 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in 2019. The Social Security Act provides for annual COLA increases based on inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Because the CPI-W rose modestly over the last year, the 2019 COLA will increase benefits modestly. According to SSA, the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker will increase by $39, from $1,422 in 2018 to $1,461 in 2019. The average monthly benefit for a Social Security disabled worker beneficiary will increase by $34, from $1,222 in 2018 to $1,234 in 2019. In addition, the SSI Federal Payment Standard will increase from $750 per month in 2018 to $771 per month in 2019. Important work incentive thresholds for Social Security and SSI beneficiaries with disabilities will also increase, including the Substantial Gainful Activity level and the Trial Work Period earnings level. View SSA’s fact sheet for more details on the 2019 Social Security COLA.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. John Larson (D-CT) introduced the Social Security Fairness Act (S. 3147; H.R. 6251), joined by 6 cosponsors in the Senate and 31 in the House. The bill would set Social Security Administration’s (SSA) administrative funding at 1.5 percent of overall benefit payments, a significantly more adequate level compared to current funding. The bill would also eliminate the five-month waiting period for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and the 24-month waiting period for SSDI beneficiaries to qualify for Medicare. Finally, the bill would implement a moratorium on all closures of SSA field offices and contact stations. H.R. 6251 has been referred to the Committees on Ways and Means, Budget, Rules, and Energy and Commerce; S. 3147 has been referred to the Committee on Finance. The Arc supports this legislation to strengthen administration and customer service across Social Security’s programs and to end unnecessary and harmful waiting periods that SSDI beneficiaries currently endure.
Last week, the House Committee on Ways and Means marked up the Social Security Online Tools Innovation Act (H.R. 3309), sponsored by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX). As amended by the Committee, the bill would require the Social Security Administration to create within 2 years an online tool or tools to allow Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries to estimate the potential impact of earnings on their benefits. The bill would also prohibit recovery of any overpayments that arise from a beneficiary relying on inaccurate information from the tool (in the event of inaccuracy by the tool). The Committee reported the amended bill favorably by a voice vote. The Arc supports the bill, as amended and approved by the Committee, to provide SSDI beneficiaries with important information about opportunities to work and the impact of earnings on their SSDI benefits.
Last week, the White House released a report, Social Security Disability Insurance: A Lifeline for Millions of American Workers and Their Families. The report describes how SSDI insures nearly all American workers and their families, the important role that benefits play in the lives of nearly 11 million current beneficiaries, changes in SSDI over time, and action needed to protect workers and ensure SSDI solvency. As noted in the report: “In 2016, SSDI beneficiaries could face a deep and abrupt 19 percent reduction in their disability insurance benefits if lawmakers fail to act to remedy a long-projected shortfall in the program’s finances.” President Obama has recommended rebalancing existing Social Security payroll taxes to ensure SSDI’s solvency through 2033 (on an even path with the rest of the Social Security system). The Arc strongly supports this common-sense solution, which Congress has taken numerous times in the past. Visit the White House web site to view the full report.
Last week, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), in collaboration with the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Veterans Administration, published Key Strategies for Connecting People Experiencing Homelessness to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Benefits. The report outlines several approaches including: assisting people experiencing homelessness with the SSI/SSDI application process; coordinating with SSA field offices, community organizations, and other federal agencies; coordinating with other benefits and entitlements; working with veterans and other special populations; and assisting SSI/SSDI beneficiaries post-entitlement. Visit the USICH web site to read the full report.
Last week, the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources, held a hearing on “Protecting the Safety Net from Waste, Fraud, and Abuse”. Witnesses testified in two panels, focusing on proposals related to Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, and Unemployment Insurance. The first panel consisted of Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX), Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX), Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA), Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Representative Tom Reed (R-NY), Representative Jim Renacci (R-OH), and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). The second panel consisted of Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General, Social Security Administration; Dan Bertoni, Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, Government Accountability Office; Curt Eysink, Executive Director, Louisiana Workforce Commission; Debra Rohlman, Vice President of Government Sales, Equifax Workforce Solutions; and Rebecca Vallas, Director of Policy for Poverty to Prosperity Program, Center for American Progress. Visit the Committee website to review testimony and for more information.
This week, the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources, will hold a hearing on “Protecting the Safety Net from Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.” The hearing will review multiple bills related to Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Unemployment Insurance (UI), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The Arc strongly opposes many of the bills that will be discussed at the hearing, including H.R. 918, a bill to cut SSDI for applicants and beneficiaries who also receive UI. The Ways and Means Committee web site is currently undergoing a redesign; our next edition of Capitol Insider will share links to hearing testimony and archived video, if available.
Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and other lifeline programs for people with I/DD are under attack. The House and Senate passed a concurrent budget resolution that calls for significant cuts, setting in motion a process to restructure the Medicaid program. It’s time to act! We are calling on our advocates to engage their members of Congress in support of these critical programs. Please register your concerns by responding to the action alert posted above. To assist you with engaging in other activities, The Arc has created a toolkit with tips and key messages to convey. The Memorial Day recess and the July 4th recess are excellent times to step up our activities by writing, calling or visiting your Member of Congress.
As expected, the House and Senate passed their Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Resolutions last week. The measures passed with votes nearly along party lines of 228-199 and 52-46, respectively. Both contain drastic cuts to the entitlement and discretionary programs that people with disabilities rely on. They would cut funding by block granting the Medicaid program (called “flexible state allotments”), privatizing the Medicare program, and freezing discretionary funding over the next decade.
Additionally, the House budget resolution includes several harmful provisions on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). It reiterates a House rule that creates roadblocks to preventing a 20 percent across-the-board SSDI benefit after 2016, and proposes cutting SSDI for people who also receive Unemployment Insurance after trying to work, but losing their job. The Senate budget resolution does not include these provisions.
Passage of the two resolutions paves the way for the House and Senate to begin negotiating a joint budget resolution. See The Arc’s statement on the passage of the budget resolutions.
See a more detailed summary of what is in the budget resolutions in last week’s edition at:
Rep. John Larson (D-CT) has introduced the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R.1391) along with 54 cosponsors. The bill provides for numerous improvements to Social Security benefits, including a modest benefit increase for current and new beneficiaries, starting in 2015; an improved annual cost of living adjustment; a tax break for over 10 million Social Security beneficiaries by raising the threshold for taxation on benefits for individual and joint filers; and a new minimum benefit that will be 25 percent above the poverty line. The bill would also make Social Security fully solvent for 75 years and includes a reallocation of Social Security payroll contributions to prevent a 20% across the board benefit cut in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in 2016. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.