House and Senate Pass Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Resolutions: Proposals Include Major Cuts to Programs Including Medicaid

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:

Bill to Strengthen Finances Introduced in House

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.

Senate Holds Hearing on Social Security Disability Insurance Financing

Last week, the Senate Committee on the Budget held a hearing on “The Coming Crisis:  Social Security Disability Trust Fund Insolvency”.  Witnesses were: Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Social Security Administration; Dr. Mark Duggan, Wayne and Jodi Cooperman Professor of Economics, Stanford University; Dr. Philip de Jong, Professor of Economics, University of Amsterdam – Amsterdam School of Economics; and Kate Lang, Staff Attorney, National Senior Citizens Law Center (testifying as a co-chair of the Income Security Committee of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations or LCAO).  The Arc joined with other members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities to submit a statement for the record of the hearing. Visit the Committee website to review testimony and video of the hearing.

Bills Introduced to Cut Concurrent Social Security Disability Insurance & Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Last week, Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT), House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chair Sam Johnson (R-TX), and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced the “Social Security Disability Insurance and Unemployment Benefits Double Dip Elimination Act” in both the Senate and House (S. 499, with 4 cosponsors; H.R. 918, with 10 cosponsors). The bills were referred to the Senate Committee on Finance and House Committee on Ways and Means, respectively. As previously reported, the prior week, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced S.343, the “Reducing Overlapping Payments Act”. While different in their mechanics, all three bills would reduce or delay Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for individuals who also receive Unemployment Insurance (UI) (such as, after attempting to work but losing their job through no fault of their own and therefore qualifying for UI).

The Arc strongly opposes cuts to SSDI benefits, including cuts to concurrent SSDI and UI benefits. As noted in a fact sheet by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, SSDI and UI are separate programs established for different purposes; receipt of concurrent SSDI and UI benefits, while rare, is both legal and appropriate. Cutting these benefits would harm the economic security of SSDI beneficiaries and their families, single out SSDI beneficiaries and treat them differently from other workers under the UI program, and create disincentives to work for SSDI beneficiaries. For these reasons, The Arc strongly opposes S. 499, H.R. 918, S. 343, and similar proposals.

Bill Introduced to Cut Concurrent Social Security Disability Insurance & Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Last week, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced S.343, the “Reducing Overlapping Payments Act”; the bill was referred to the Committee on Finance. The bill would zero out Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in any month in which a SSDI beneficiary also receives Unemployment Insurance (UI) (such as, after attempting to work but losing their job through no fault of their own and therefore qualifying for UI). The Arc strongly opposes cuts to SSDI benefits, including cuts to concurrent SSDI and UI benefits. As noted in a fact sheet by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, SSDI and UI are separate programs established for different purposes; receipt of concurrent SSDI and UI benefits, while rare, is both legal and appropriate. Cutting these benefits would harm the economic security of SSDI beneficiaries and their families, single out SSDI beneficiaries and treat them differently from other workers under the UI program, create disincentives to work for SSDI beneficiaries, and cut Social Security to pay for an unrelated program. The Arc strongly opposes S. 343 and similar proposals.

 

Agency to Expand Field Office Hours

Last week, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that the agency will expand its hours nationwide. Effective March 16, 2015, SSA field offices will be open to the public for an additional hour on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.  A field office that is usually open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. will remain open until 4:00 p.m.  Offices will continue to close to the public at noon every Wednesday. As previously reported, over the last several years SSA has reduced the hours that its field offices are open to the public as well as field office services, due to funding constraints. The Arc strongly supports adequate administrative funding for SSA to ensure that the service needs of the public, including people with disabilities, are met.

House Rules for 114th Congress Include Harmful Social Security Provision

Last week, the House of Representatives adopted its rules of procedure for the 114th Congress (H. Res. 5). Included in the measure was an unprecedented Social Security-related provision that will affect the ability of Congress to prevent a 20% cut in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in 2016. The provision, inserted by Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Tom Reed (R-NY) and approved by a vote of 234 to 168, sets up procedural hurdles to House consideration of a needed, routine replenishment of Social Security’s disability fund.  Shockingly, these major changes were never considered in hearings or open to input from constituents. While these rules only affect the House – not the Senate – The Arc is deeply concerned that this new provision sets a troubling tone for how the 114th Congress may deal with Social Security and SSDI. Visit The Arc’s blog to learn more about the House rules provision.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Issues Bulletin on Lenders’ Standards for Verification of Social Security Disability Income

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has issued a bulletin to help lenders avoid imposing illegal burdens on consumers receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) who apply for mortgages. The bulletin reminds lenders that requiring unnecessary documentation from consumers who receive Social Security disability income may raise fair lending risk. The bulletin calls attention to standards and guidelines that may help lenders comply with the law, and help ensure that SSDI and SSI beneficiaries receive fair and equal access to credit. In a related blog post, the CFPB reminds consumers that anyone having an issue with a financial product or service can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB.

House Bill Introduced to Enhance Social Security Child’s Insurance Benefits

Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-PA) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) have introduced the Child’s Insurance Benefits Improvement Act (H.R. 5715). The bill seeks to enhance Social Security’s Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefit. The DAC benefit allows a person age 18 or older who meets the Social Security disability standard to receive benefits based on the prior contributions of a parent, who is themselves eligible for Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or who is deceased and was insured under Social Security. Currently, to qualify for the DAC benefit a person’s disability must have started prior to age 22. H.R. 5715 would increase that age from 22 to 26. The bill would apply this change retroactively, so that individuals who acquired disabilities between age 22 and 26 could qualify for benefits, regardless of their current age. Additionally, H.R. 5715 would increase the ages associated with Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recent work requirements by 4 years. This would extend SSDI coverage to more individuals ages 22 to 28 who have a limited work history, such as youth enrolled in post-secondary education. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Senators Collins and Nelson Introduce Debt Collection Improvement Act

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) have introduced the Debt Collection Improvement Act (S. 2896) to limit the amount the federal government can garnish from monthly federal benefits. In 1998, Congress set this amount at $750 per month; since then, it has not been raised or adjusted for inflation. As a result, the federal government can garnish Social Security benefits so long as the beneficiary is not left with less than $750 per month. A recent report by the Government Accountability Organization (GAO) found that 155,000 people had their Social Security benefits garnished in 2013 because they had defaulted on their student loan payments. The vast majority – 71 percent – were receiving Social Security disability benefits. According to the GAO, if the garnishment limit had been indexed to match the rate of increase in the poverty threshold, in 2013, 68 percent of all borrowers whose Social Security benefits were garnished for federal student loan debt would have kept their entire benefit. Earlier this month, the Senate Special Committee on Aging (Chair: Sen. Nelson; Ranking Member: Sen. Collins) held a hearing on older Americans and the impact of student loan debt on retirement security. The Debt Collection Improvement Act would adjust the current $750 garnishment floor for inflation and index it going forward. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.