Protecting SSDI & Social Security: Jan 20, 2015Download Audio
Organizer’s Forum: Topic – Protecting SSDI and Social Security
TUESDAY, January 20, 2015
How do we respond to threats from Congress to roll back these critical programs? What is happening around the country and how can your organization get involved? What is the impact of claiming that people don’t need benefits?
- T.J. Sutcliffe, Director of Income & Housing Policy, The Arc and Co-Chair, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force
- Lisa Ekman, Disability Policy Consultant, American Association of People with Disabilities
- Ben Perez, UC Berkeley student, SSI recipient
- Jodi Reid, Executive Director of the California Alliance for Retired Americans, state affiliate of the national Alliance for Retired Americans
TUESDAY, January 20th, 1-2 pm Eastern time, 12-1 Central time, 11-12 Mountain time, 10-11 am Pacific time
- Call in number: 1-213-342-3000
- Code: 193134#
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Looking forward to talking with you all!
Jessica Lehman and Diane Coleman
Co-Chairs, National Organizing Workgroup
THE FOLLOWING IS AN UNEDITED ROUGH DRAFT TRANSLATION FROM THE CART PROVIDER’S OUTPUT FILE. THIS TRANSCRIPT IS NOT VERBATIM AND MAY CONTAIN ERRORS.
>> This is Jolene.
>> Elaine Cole.
>> Julie Espinoza.
>> Jessica: This is Jessica Lehman. Welcome, everyone. Do we have our speakers on the call yet?
>> Hi, Jessica. This is Lisa Ekman.
>> Jessica: Hi, Lisa.
>> Ben: Hi. This is Ben Perez.
>> Jessica: Hi, Ben. I hope you got my e mail.
>> Ben: I did.
>> Jessica: Great. Thank you.
>> Diane: This is it Diane Coleman. I’m on the line and on the chat.
>> Jessica: Great. Thanks, Diane. And no TJ or Jodi yet. Right?
>> Jodi: Jodi is here.
>> Jessica: Oh, good.
>> TJ: Jessica, this is TJ. I’m on.
>> Jessica: That is our whole lineup. Thank you. Well, let’s go ahead and do introductions. I’m sure people will join more as we’re going.
>> Monica from Arizona. There’s too much noise in the background.
>> Jessica: There’s bit of noise in the background. You know, let’s do well, for one thing, if anybody is outside or if you have some noise around you, if you can mute your phone. You can hit Star 6 to mute yourself and then Star 6 again to unmute yourself.
>> Everyone should do that.
>> Jessica: Rather than starting, can people hear a little bit? I know it’s a little fuzzy right now. I’m thinking what we’ll do is we’ll ask who’s on the call first and then I’ll kind of introduce the call, but I can mute everybody when we do that so with we won’t have to worry about hearing. So to get a sense of who’s on the call, let’s ask people to give their name and organization if you are from an organization and city. So let’s start with the West Coast. Who do we have on the call?
>> This is Alan Ontario and I’m at Berkley.
>> This is Brian McDonald [inaudible] disability, Berkley, California.
>> Jessica: Great.
>> Monica Cooper, People First, Phoenix, Arizona.
>> Jolene McKnight.
>> I heard Jolene. Isn’t that right?
>> Yes, from People First in Arizona.
>> Jessica: Great.
>> And this is [inaudible] also in Berkley, California
>> Jessica: Great. Anybody else on the West Coast?
>> John Meyers with the [inaudible] I’m in Phoenix.
>> Jodi Reid, Alliance for Retired Americans.
>> Jessica: More broadly?
>> [inaudible] Independent Living Center, Missoula, Montana.
>> Jessica: How about moving to the Midwest?
>> Gary Arnold from Chicago, Illinois, Access Living and Little People of America.
>> Jessica: Great.
>> Michelle McGowen, Disability Network, Southwest Michigan, Kalamazoo.
>> [inaudible] Southwestern Center for Independent Living in Springfield, Missouri.
>> Barry Smith
>> Jessica: How about East Coast? We’re hearing some more static. If you have people talking in the background, please hit Star 6 to mute your phone. How about the south?
>> Julie Espinoza, REACH Plano Resource Center for Independent Living.
>> Heather Dorner, Disability Link, Center for Independent Living, Georgia.
>> And this is Linda Pogue at Disability Link at Atlanta, Georgia.
>> And [inaudible]
>> Jessica: Who was that? Someone else from Georgia?
>> Justin Presley with Access to a Better Tomorrow.
>> Jessica: Great. All right. And how about moving up the East Coast? Like the Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia area?
>> This is Diane. I need to first say that on the chat Rickielee Benecke from LIFE CIL in Bloomington, Illinois, and I didn’t read it in the right place.
>> Jessica: That’s fine. Thank you. How about the rest of the East Coast?
>> [inaudible] Pennsylvania.
>> Jessica: Who else?
>> New York, southern Independent Center.
>> Diana Clanton [inaudible] Independent Living.
>> Jessica: So let’s do Diana again?
>> Diana Clanton, Southeast Kansas Independent Living Resource Center.
>> Jessica: Was there someone else at the same time?
>> Elaine Colb in Connecticut.
>> Jessica: Great.
>> Phil Crane from RISE.
>> Jessica: Bill from where?
>> Arise Independent Living center, Syracuse, New York.
>> Jessica: Okay.
>> Captionist: Talking at the same time.
>> Bob Sweeney.
>> Jessica: Anybody who hasn’t introduced themself yet?
>> Barry Hardle Smith from Phoenix, Arizona.
>> Colleen Starkwell.
>> Hi, Colleen.
>> [inaudible] Phoenix, Arizona.
>> Jessica: And do we have Kristen on from CDR doing our recording?
>> Linda Taylor is doing the recording.
>> Jessica: Oh, wonderful. Thank you so much. Great.
>> Linda: You’re welcome.
>> Jessica: Okay. Well, that was an excellent round of introductions. Good to know who’s on the call. I’m going to go ahead and mute everyone now so it’s a little easier to hear, so hold on one second. Okay. Now hopefully everyone can hear well. So welcome. My name is Jessica Lehman and I co chair the organizers forum with Diane Coleman. And Diane, if you want to unmute yourself, you want to introduce yourself? Just hit star six.
>> Diane: Hi, yes. Diane Coleman. I’m with not dead yet in Rochester, New York, and I’m part of the professional disability leadership Alliance steering Committee, which is the sponsor of this call. And the leadership Alliance is a coalition or Alliance of national disability rights organizations that are led by people with disabilities ourselves.
>> Jessica: Thank you. And I work for an organization called senior and disability action in San Francisco, California. The organizers forum is designed to expand and support community organizing in the disability community. So really, sharing with each other tools and lessons learned about how do we get people involved, how do we keep them involved? What are some of the issues that we should be mobilizing our community around? How do we really do better outreach and work with different communities? We have a different topic each month and we’re always looking for ideas, so if you have an idea, if there’s something you want to do, please talk to myself or Diane. . And the call is captioned, as Diane mentioned. Thanks to NDLA for funding that. So if you’d like, you can log on and take questions and Diane will read them out on the call. We also have open dialogue if you don’t wanting to on to the chat window. I want to remind everyone to speak slowly and clearly and say your name before you speak. We will keep the call muted most of the time, but even so, please don’t put yous on hold, because we’ve had some problems withhold music. If you need to step away, you can just hang up and you can always right back when you’re available.
I think those are the basics. I always count on Diane to remind me if I’ve forgotten anything. So I want to go ahead and introduce our topic for today. We are talking about protecting SSDI and Social Security. And of course there are threats from time to time in Congress of folks that say, oh, maybe we should cut this to save money. And there were some threats very recently about either cutting Social Security or DI, and I think a lot of us were concerned about the potential attempt to split seniors and people with disabilities and really pit these groups against each other. So the idea of today’s call is to hear a little bit more about what’s happening in Congress, what’s happening with these programs. We’ll start with an overview of what they are for people that may need a little background, and then to talk about what does this mean for our communities and for community organizers? How do we mobilize around those in effective ways?
So we have four excellent speakers today. We have TJ Sutcliffe, who is the Director of income and housing policy at the Arc and co chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Taskforce. We have Lisa Ekman, who is a disability policy consultant at the American association of people with disabilities. And Lisa, I am realizing you have another title, and I will let you add that when you start if that’s okay. We have Ben Perez thinker who is a student at UC Berkley involved in the Canada foundation and an SSI recipient. And then we have Jodi Reid, who is executive director of the California Alliance for Retired Americans, which is the state affiliate of the national Alliance for Retired Americans.
So with that, we are ready to start. Sorry. I am trying to remember if Lisa or TJ was going to start first. And I’m going to let you guys remind me. One of you can go ahead and hit star six and make sure we can hear you.
>> TJ: Hi. This is TJ. Can you hear me?
>> Jessica: Yes, thank you. Go ahead.
>> TJ: Wonderful. I think I’m going to go first and then Lisa will follow up with some more specifics if that works.
>> Jessica: Perfect.
>> TJ: Great. Thank you so much for having me on the call. I really, really appreciate the opportunity to be on the call today and to speak with all of and you really look forward to the introduction. I’m TJ Sutcliffe and I work here at the Arc and DUS and also co chair the TTD Social Security Taskforce. And I know we have a lot of expertise on this call about SSDI and Social Security and SSI. So what I’m going to try and do is just share a couple of top line points about each of these systems to provide a little bit more context for some of the what’s going on with some of the specific attacks, and Lisa Ekman is going to talk about some of the specifics a little bit more.
And I want to start with SSDI or Social Security disability insurance, and I’m going to make three top line points about SSDI. The first is to really keep in mind that SSDI is a really important part of our nation’s Social Security system overall. As I think everybody on this call probably knows, Social Security is insurance that is paid for by workers and their employers who pay into the system each and every month with each and every paycheck through those payroll taxes or FICA taxes. 165 million Americans or nearly all workers are insured under Social Security, and what they’re buying is really three kinds of insurance: Retirement insurance, life insurance, and disability insurance. The insurance under Social Security provides a very modest benefit, and it’s designed, the system is designed to be there for people when they need it. And it’s also really important to remember that the insurance that people get under Social Security and particularly under SSDI, it’s typically insurance that people can’t get from other sources. For most workers, SSDI is really fog to be the only game in town. Most American workers cannot buy private, long term disability insurance unless they lap to be typically professional managerial workers who are working for higher wages. The typical worker, and particularly low wage workers, are not going to be able to buy SSDI in the private market. So the importance of Social Security and of SSDI is both the benefits that people get, but it’s also the coverage that workers get for retirement, for life, and for disability.
The benefits under Social Security under all three parts of the system are extremely interrelated. The benefits are calculated using the same basic underlying formulas. People get the same annual cost of living adjustments, and changes in one part of the system can often affect many other parts of the system. So it is one system, and SSDI is an important part of it. And as Lisa is going to highlight a little bit more, that’s really important, because many of the attacks that we have been seeing on SSDI and much of what’s happened during the beginning of this year, people who are putting forward some of these proposals to go after SSDI are also being very clear that they want to cut not just SSDI, but Social Security as a whole.
The second point that I want to make is that it’s about the people. Social Security and SSDI is about the people who are currently receiving benefits, as well as the people who are currently paying into the system and who may need benefits next week or next month or next year. And I know that’s a point that’s really near and dear to my heart and I know it’s important to everybody on this call. So when we think about who is getting benefits today, we know that there’s about 9 million people with disabilities who currently receive SSDI benefits and about 2 million of their spouses and children who receive benefits based on the person with the disability’s contributions and work history.
On average, people who receive SSDI benefits are in their fifties and 60s. Beneficial wearies are over age 50. Flee 10 are age 60 or older. The average age is right around 53. The benefits that people receive are very, very modest. Typically, its right around $38 per day and the benefits generally make up the majority of income for four out of five people with disabilities who are receiving benefits. So generally, people really don’t have a lot of wiggle room in their budgets and that’s particularly important as we think about proposals to cut benefits.
The third point about SSDI that I want to share, folks have probably, you know, seen these news reports that talk about growth in the program, and it’s really important to keep in mind when it comes to trends in SSDI, it’s all about demographics. There are three main reasons for the growth in SSDI and they all relate back to demographic. The first is that in general, our population has grown. We have more people living in the United States today than we did in, say, 1980, and that means that there are just more of us around who may acquire disabilities and need to apply for SSDI.
The second is that on average, our population is older today than it was several decades ago. The baby boomers are now in their fifties and sixties, and statistically, are the ages where we see higher rates of disability.
The third reason is the higher entry of women into the workforce in the Seventies and eighties, it used to be that 30 years ago, many women did not have enough work history and had not paid into Social Security for long enough to qualify for Social Security benefits in any part of the system if they retired or if they acquired a qualified disability or if they died and their survivors needed life insurance. Today that is not the case. Women are increasingly working, paying into Social Security and able to qualify for Social Security benefits if they need them. So those three factors together account for nearly all of the increase in the SSDI program that we’ve seen over the last several decades.
I also just want to briefly touch on SSI, because although we have not, in the last couple of weeks, seen explicit attacks on SSI, we know that that is something where there’s been a history in the past of seeing attacks on SSI and there are many people who receive SSDI and SSI benefits, so it’s worth sort of noting that as SSDI is at risk, there’s also a risk to SSI.
As I think probably everybody on this call knows, unlike SSDI, SSI is paid out of general revenues. It is a program that requires people to have very low income and very low assets in order to receive benefits, and the average benefits are extremely low. It’s just around $18 per day. Currently there’s just under 5 million adults with disabilities and right around 1.3 million children with disabilities who receive benefits through SSI, and there’s about 1.5 million adults with disabilities who receive both SSI and SSDI. So those are individuals who could be affected by changes to one or both.
Over the last couple of years, SSI has I don’t necessarily want to say been entirely under the radar, but there’s been, I think, Lisa tension to SSI than to SSDI, but we are very nervous in Washington. We’re seeing Paul Ryan come in as the new chair of the house ways and means Committee, which has oversight over SSI. Paul Ryan has, in the past, proposed doing things to SSI, like block grants. And we also had seen a history with the SSI program, particularly with the childhood disability program, of individual groups trying to go after that part of the program. So we are nervous about what the future may hold for SSI.
so with that, I’m going turn over to Lisa, who’s going to talk a little bit more specifically about the house rules and some of the other groups of attacks we’re seeing.
>> Lisa: Hello? Can you hear me?
>> Jessica: We can. Thank you. Go ahead.
>> Lisa: Okay. Great. This is Lisa Ekman, and as Jessica said, I am a policy consultant on disability to the American Association of People with Disabilities, and I wanted to talk to you about the current situation with SSDI and what’s been going on in the Congress. As TJ mentioned, the growth in the SSDI program has been expected for a long time. It’s not surprising. And it has been known since the nineties that come 2016, we will face a shortfall in funding to pay full benefits to people.
So at the end of 2016, the SSDI trust fund will become exhausted, and if Congress does nothing, incoming tax revenue will only allow about 80% of benefits to be paid. So we’re facing, for SSDI beneficiaries, a 20% benefit cut unless Congress takes action, as they have done many times in the past to ensure that full benefits go out. So what we have seen mainly from republicans, but also from other critics of the program, is the attempt to create a false crisis in the program in order to force changes to not just the Social Security disability program, but as TJ said, to the Social Security system as a whole. And you see this, for example, with some statements after the house Rule was passed, which I’ll get to in just one second, from the budget chairman in the house, I know coming budget chairman Tom Price, indicating they want to use the shortfall to have a conversation about Social Security to look at things like means testing in the Social Security programs and increasing the eligibility age for retirement, which would also have significant impacts on the disability program. As TJ said, it is one system as a whole, and when you make changes in one program, it does affect the other programs.
In the past when any of the retirement, old age survivors, trust fund, or disability trust fund has faced a short term financing challenge like the DI will have next year, Congress has basically reallocated the amount of the payroll taxes that go into one trust funds into both tryst funds so that both of the trust funds are in equal footings and what the house did when they passed their standing rules for the Congress is include a provision that would not allow that very common sense technical routine, bipartisan reallocation of the taxes from the old age and survivors trust fund, lowering those taxes temporarily that go into old age and survivors trust fund and increasing temporarily the amount of the taxes that go into the disability trust fund. The Rule prohibits Congress from doing that by creating what’s known as a budget point of order. And what this means is that common sense reallocation that has occurred in both directions on a bipartisan basis 11 times in the past from one to the other in both directions can no longer happen in the house unless that budget point of order gets waived.
And so it really was a coming out of the gate, going into the new Congress, a shot across the bow against the Social Security system and programs as a whole. And there have been two basic things of attack that republicans and other critics of the program have been using. And the first one is very clear in the house Rule, and that is to pit seniors against people with disabilities in terms of framing this as a fixed pie that if we take away, we’re going to Rob the seniors in order to protect the disability trust fund and you did hear one of the sponsors of the house Rule, a representative Reid, refer to it as raiding the retirement fund and stealing from seniors. And this is an attempt to both divide the advocacy communities, the senior advocacy community against the disability community, as well as create a false dichotomy in terms of our system as a whole. We need to keep our Social Security system strong, and this is an attempt to divide them and separate them to make a more difficult jobs for advocates to defend the program.
The second theme of attack that you hear quite often coming from republicans as well as other critics of the program is that there’s a great deal of fraud in the program, and we need to protect this program for people who are truly disabled and that it is too easy to get benefits. And this is the theme that you heard Senator Rand Paul talking about when he talked about people with anxiety and back pain being a majority of beneficiaries, and we really need to protect the program so that people with real disabilities can get benefits and stop people who don’t have them from getting them. And the reality of the situation is that fraud in the SSDI and SSI programs are very low, but that by creating this narrative, it makes it much easier to argue for reform to the program. I’m putting air quotes on reform. That would restrict eligibility and kick people off of benefits. So this is a very popular scene among the critics of the program. And along with that over the past decade, there has been a systematic effort to under fund the Social Security Administration. Its budget currently spends just about two% of total outlays to administer the SSDI program, which is extremely low amount of money to administer a big and complex program, and in the lowest percentage of the SSDI program, and it is a third less in terms of a percentage of total costs that SSA has received since 2005. It was 3% in 2005 and now it’s 2%. And what this does is it creates a situation where SSA does not have the resources it needs to administer the program to complete the continuing disability reviews and the other program integrity effort, which then leads to another way to attack the program by saying that there’s fraud, but you’re not. But you are creating a situation which is impossible to complete all the program integrity efforts to protect the program, because you don’t give the Social Security Administration enough resources to administer it.
So what we are faced with right now is a potential benefit cut of 20% in the SSDI program by the end of 2016 if Congress takes no action. The house has created and republicans have created this false crisis to force action not just on the Social Security disability programs, but also on the Social Security system as a whole, and the house creating a Rule which makes the very common sense and routine and bipartisan way that we have addressed this situation in the past as a country takes it off the table and indicates a desire by republicans and other critics to really use this false crisis to make cuts to these very vital programs to people with disabilities.
And so I think one last thing I’d like to say before ending my talk is that this shows how really out of touch Congress is with the American people. When you look at things like what do the American people want when it comes to Social Security? The national academy of social insurance just released this summer the second of several polls that they have done, and basically, people are very protective of Social Security They want to support it. They do not want to see any benefit cuts and they’re willing to pay more than they are. And I’m going to repeat that. They’re willing to pay more in tacks across age groups, political affiliations, speck status a cross all of those. Seven out of 10 Americans are willing to pay more, in other words, increase payroll taxes to improve benefits and create a better cost of living adjustment. And so the common sense wishes of reallocating and looking at the potential to increase revenue are not on the table, and that’s what this Rule has indicated we are facing as we try to ensure that people with disabilities do the not see a 20% benefit cut and the rest of the Social Security system is strengthened instead of having benefits cut and eligibility restrict.
>> Jessica: Thank you so much, Lisa and TJ, for that really excellent overview and introduction to what’s going on. Next we’ll hear from Ben Perez, who will talk a little bit about his own experience. Be sure to hit Star 6 to unmute. There you are.
>> Ben: Yep. I’m here now. I’m going to provide a little bit of a qualitative understanding of SSI for those of you who are unfamiliar, although I’m getting the impression that there’s crowd well versed in the values and how they affect people in their daily lives. I was a student at you feel C Berkley until very recently. I graduated and I actually started working for the school. I interact, as a student who received SSI, it represented critical funding for me to participate in student life and to actually get myself in a position where I could be on the program in a lot of ways. So some background.
When I was 16, I broke my neck. My parents were uninsured at the time and I was uninsured at the time. And living in California, access to Medical insurance program represented all of the medical support that I received through the remainder of high school and through my college years. What SSI does then is represent the life line to people who are without any other form of support and who don’t have the means necessarily to access the private insurance market at any given moment or access things like housing or any other of the critical elements of life.
What I’ve seen as an SSI recipient is that the program itself, as alluded to previously by the other speaker, is a constructed scarcity. Is that you’re constantly battling to maintain the benefits that you currently receive. So the constant reviews, as were mentioned to maintaining the program’s integrity and becoming barriers to accessing the program, as fears about fraud run rampant. My sis ability status hasn’t ever changed since I became disabled and it likely wouldn’t for the rest of my life, but I was constantly retested. My SSI benefits were cut at various points, simply because delays in testing or mandates for reestablishing my need for the program. And this happened with shocking regularity. So there are some very I guess kind of really challenging and damaging parts of this that, the kind of false scarcity created by the necessity for testing, and the rhetoric on the Hill and in the country more broadly I hear will continue to create barriers to accessing the program for people who are in great need of it. So I guess that’s probably where I would say that the most critical part of the current conversation at the national level really rests is that by talking about the program constantly running out of funding or underfunded or any other number of issues, you are preventing people who currently access the program from being able to do so.
So I guess that’s where I’ll leave it for now.
>> Diane. This is Diane. It sounds like Jessica may have had to step away for a minute. I believe we have one additional speaker. Is that correct?
>> Jessica: Diane, I’m so sorry. I was talking, but I was apparently on mute. This is Jessica. I was saying a lot there. I was thanking Ben for that really excellent explanation of his experience and why this is so important. And with introducing our final speaker, Jodi Reid, to talk a little bit about the organizing that you’re doing and advice you have for folks on how to respond to some of these attacks. And Jodi, be sure to hit Star 6 so we can hear you.
>> Jodi: Can you hear me now?
>> Jessica: Yes, we can. Go ahead.
>> Jodi: Okay. Good. Thank you for inviting me on this call. It’s very impressive that you do these calls, and I’m really happy to be able to join you today. I am the director of the California Alliance for Retired Americans, and we’re the state affiliate of the national Alliance for Retired Americans. And although our name makes it sound like you have to be retired to be a member, we’re actually an organization that represents seniors and people with disabilities and their families on issues of concern. And I wanted to say that I really appreciated both the history of this program and kind of the way the Republican attacks to it have come from. And just to remind all of us that although currently SSDI seems to have risen to the top of the list in terms of the focus of these attacks if you will, for as long as I can remember, both the Social Security program as a whole and Medicare also have been under attack. And there are continual efforts to try and undermine the programs and not only scare current beneficiaries, but really set the stage for discouraging support of this program for the next generations who might be eligible to benefit from this.
Because the program is, as was so eloquently explained, funded by people who are currently paying into it, the strategy to try and tell folks who are either hoping to retire soon or maybe disabled and hoping to receive benefits and even the younger generation that this program is going to go broke and not be there for future generations does a number of things. It scares people into believing that other approaches might make more sense like privatizing Social Security and having people move from this type of a national social insurance program to an individual program that’s managed by investment bankers and money invested in Wall Street accounts like 401(k)s and what have you is a way for us to develop some sort of retirement security and also to put a lot of money into the hands of Wall Street that is very risky money, because as we’ve seen, if the economy goes down, so does your investment, and you might be left holding the bag. But it’s been a very effective strategy to move the non recipient population into thinking about into not supporting the program, not really understanding it, and even looking at it as a doomed program, and to sort of pit the current payee population, those who were paying into the program against those who are current beneficiaries, whether it’s through the typical social program or through SSDI. And this attack has been going on for years, and it was funded, some of the Republican Party had led the charge. There’s been a lot of funding from some right wing billionaires like Pete Peterson to help foster that charge, saying this is going broke. We’ve used the program to negotiate around things like deficit reduction, even though Social Security as was also explained, isn’t part of the national budget, although the administration of it is part of the budget, as is SSI.
So it’s a complicated program, and I think what the republicans have been very genius about is finding every year, finding a new way to try and undermine it and bring question to its validity. Try to divide different parts of the community that support it, whether its seniors and people with disabilities, as is the case in this kind of attack, so younger workers from soon to be retirees. It’s been always looking for a way to kind of divide and conquer us. So they were fighting against each other instead of fighting against these constant attacks. And so we in California, as well as nationally, every year we find that, you know, we need to put a significant amount of energy into both educating the public about these attacks and how wrong headed they are, as well as putting pressure on our own elected officials.
And the unfortunate thing right now, given the Republican led house and Senate, is a lot of our sort of firewall has disappeared. You know, last year and in the last couple of years, even though there’s been a majority on the house side and Paul Ryan, as was mentioned before, as tried to foster some of these conversations, both on Social Security as well as Medicare, the Senate has basically put the wall up and said through Senator Harry Reid, who was the head of the Senate, and with democrats having a majority, saying it’s not coming into my house. So the proposals have moved. There’s been conversation about it, but they haven’t been able to get through the Senate and they’ve died. That’s not the case anymore. Now we have both houses, you know, positioned to move these kind of proposals forward. And the firewall is the president. To veto them. This latest sort of manipulations of the budget process is a tricky way to figure out from kind of having a full hearing and get to go the point of a veto, and there aren’t enough votes to override a veto that the republicans hold, but to do this as sort of a budget manipulation, because as was also said, both Social Security and Medicare, but in this case Social Security is America’s most popular program, and people, regardless of political party, as the nasty folks have shown through their polls, Social Security works, which is kind of a think tank on Social Security and does a lot of responding and promoting of policies that will help make the program more robust rather than looking at cutting it back.
Because it’s so popular, bringing the stuff up to a vote and having public discourse around it would have it blow up in their face, because people support the program. So this is a really underhanded way to try and manipulate the system in a way that they wanted. I’m supposed to be talking about what to do and what we’re doing in California, and hopefully what folks can do around the country. I think the most immediate or obvious thing that we’re sort of pushing out, and I would urge you all to do it, too, is to start calling your members of Congress and your U.S. Senators and expressing your alarm at this maneuver by the republicans and, you know, the historical case that we’ve had to move funds between the various programs under the Social Security, the larger Social Security program 11 times, several during the Reagan administration. So it’s been under, you know, both republicans and democrats that we’ve had to make adjustments, because there have been changes in our demographics. And that’s going to continue to happen. It has nothing to do with the fact that, you know, what they’re promoting is that this fund is underfunded, that people use it fraudulently. All of these excuses don’t deal with the real issue, in my opinion, which is we have to adjust everything as demographics change, and this is just one more time in our history that this will have to happen.
You know, so I think that immediate call to this incredible community that you have is to encourage folks to reach out to their elected officials, because we need to hear from us. If, in fact, these programs are as popular as all the polls indicate, they need to hear that their actions, how sneaky and even if they weren’t directly involved in sort of the protocol that allowed this to happen, that they need to stand up and, you know, demand that these changes not be implemented and that this cut, that they actually do the work of reauthorizing the SSDI program, and if they have to be adjustments between the funds to make that happen, so we all have an obligation to make sure that our members of Congress and our Senators are aware of our concern and our expectation that they will stand strong for these programs.
And so, you know, there’s lots of folks who have started to push this call forward, these calls forward. We’re going to be doing it in our next call alert, listing the switchboard numbers for calling Congress. There’s a number you can call and you get a switchboard person and you just tell them which Senator or which representative you want to talk with and they’ll direct you directly to their line. I think, you know, we are also in California doing some visits during their first recess of this session, which is during the president’s day week. Congress recesses on February 13th and they go back after the weekend I think of February 22nd. So they’re supposed to be in their districts, so it’s a really good time to also reach out to folks at home, and if you are unable to make a phone call to them in Washington, which this number that exists will put it out there. It’s a toll free number. Definitely call their local number, and if you can go and visit, that’s even more dynamic to make sure that they know where the public stands.
So that would be a first ask, and we’re hoping to sort of turn this around with a lot of public pressure before the Fund gets so low and depleted that they have to resort to the supposed 20% cut.
The other thing I wanted to tell you all that I really urge everybody to get their hands on is that Social Security works. The groupy mentioned before, this is a policy kind of think tank on Social Security and it’s actually housed in the Alliance for Retired Americans office in Washington now, the two cofounders of that group, Eric Kingston and Nancy Altman just wrote a book called Social Security works and why we need to expand it. So it will be there for everyone. I don’t think that’s the exact title. I’m not looking at it right now, but it’s a long title like that. The book is being released on January 21st, which is a couple days from now. But they’re also going to be doing a national book be tour. I’m not sure what the schedule is, but you might be able to go to their website and look at it. I know he that they are going to be in California between February 19th, in Sacramento, February 20th in L.A. and February 25th they’re in oak lands. And the tour is meant to do two things. One, publicize the book, but two, to bring public awareness to the importance of the program and the campaign by the republicans to undermine with so that we have the ammunition that’s provided in this book to talk about the real ways we can secure Social Security for generations for come, such as scraping the cap, as we call it, which is right now if you make over I think it’s 114,000 I don’t have the exact number you no longer get taxed on your income towards Social Security Medicare.
>> Jodi: That’s something else people can do.
>> Jessica: Sorry to interrupt. I want to make sure we have time for at least a couple questions. These resources are great. Thank you for those resources F other folks have resources to put out there, we can put links and information on the website and then we can also send things out on the organizers forum listserv, so please go ahead and send those on.
So first, a huge thank you to all of our speakers today. What an excellence lineup. I want to encourage people to continue this discussion in a couple ways. We have about five minutes for questions and comments on the call right now, but with we do have a listserv of it’s on Yahoo groups and it’s called organizers forum, all one word. So you can go Yahoo groups, do a search for that. Click join friends it’s really easy. And then share any of your thoughts or questions on that listserv. We also have an organizers forum Facebook page. There’s space between organizers and forum. That’s another way to continue some of the discussion. And the transcript and the recording of today’s call will be on the NDLA website, and that website is disability leadership.org. If you know someone who missed the call or you want to go back and look at it, its disability leadership.org and you can look at information about the organizers forum.
So with that, we have six minutes left. If somebody has a question or a comment, we want to ask people to keep it short so we can hear from as many people as possible. Go ahead and hit star six to unmute yourself and we’ll open it up.
>> Hi. My name is Mohammed. I’m driving right now, so if I drop the call, I apologize in advance. Thanks for all the speakers. I have been receiving SSDI benefits for the last seven years since I got disabled in a traumatic accident. I have all kinds of issues. I have quad hands, because muscles won’t move from my arms. I am a bilateral above knee amputee. I have a head injury. I have a spinal cord injury. So I’ve spent time, a lot of time in the hospital. My question, but at the same time, after eight years, I feel strong enough that I want to enter the workforce. Unfortunately the caps for income to SSDI, anything more than $750 a month, I’m at risk of losing my Social Security disability benefits. So my question is would it be possible littler would it be something we could request an increase of? The ones who want to work, let them work, but at the same time, let them keep their SSDI benefits? Because for the last year, I’ve been working, but I had to restrict the amount of hours I worked, because I don’t want to risk my benefits, none what I am earning will still not be muff to have lived independently, but at the same time, I need the benefits. So would this be a reasonable request to lawmakers? Hey, get rid of the cap or increase this cap so the ones who are able to and have a desire to work can work?
>> Jessica: Okay. Thanks for that question. Somebody want to take that?
>> Lisa: This is Lisa Ekman. I can take that. I thank you for sharing your story, and I think you raise a really important issue, and that is that we don’t have a good system in our country to provide support to people with disabilities who have some work capacity, but may not be able to work up to the level where they can support themselves.
In the current environment with the current Congress, I do not think you have any chance of getting expansion of these benefits to help people work better. I think the republicans are going to look at this through a lens of cost. What you suggest would actually cost money instead of saving it, and I don’t think that now would be a time that you would get any positive changes. I think we need, as a country, to do much more to support working individuals who have disabilities. We need to think about what makes sense to try to provide that kind of partial income support to people who do have work capacity, but I would suggest that in the current environment, it is a very dangerous time to try open up the program if that way, because what we are likely to see, instead of expanding the ability to support people who work, is significant cuts to eligibility that would say, well, if you can work, then you shouldn’t get benefits at all. And I think that that is a very dangerous possibility with the current environment. And especially as TJ mentioned, with some things that the chairman of the house ways and means Committee, Paul Ryan, the incoming chairman has said in the past about SSI and the possibility for work requirements and other potentially negative changes. So I completely understand and support your question. I think you have you to be very careful in the current environment, because I think what we’ll end up is something we probably don’t want if we open the program up.
>> Thank you.
>> [inaudible] in St. Louis with the stark love Disability Institute. I would like to thank you guys, I haven’t been on all of these calls, so I don’t know if you’ve done this, but what Mohammed is talking about is exactly what I’m very focused on. And I just know you have there’s a different agenda for this call. I would like to ask if we could put this on the agenda for another call and really drill down with what Lisa is talking about, what Mohammed brought up. I’ll have my staff on here, because they live this today of it’s a critical issue and it needs to be carefully strategized.
>> Jessica: We’ll put that on a future call. Go ahead, Brian.
Brian: Jessica, this is Brian McDonald. I’m co chair of the Social Security employment subcommittee with the national council on Independent Living. Just a couple of brief comments, because this is an NDLA call. More than one out of five adult Social Security beneficiaries has served in the military, and are a veteran or a veteran family member. They comprise 35% of the Social Security beneficiary population. The reason I raise that data to all the good data that’s been raised already, the constituencies and the support that we’ve heard repeatedly from the speakers as to the value of Social Security this is an extremely wide net with extremely pow powerful constituencies, one, of course, which is our Veterans community which has a very strong lobbying presence on the Hill.
I want to caution against looking at this issue area as if the sky were falling. The sky has been falling around Social Security for the 35 years I have been working around it. I would prefer or I would suggest to the folks on the call today that you look at this debate, which has certainly arrived and is certainly going to happen, as an opportunity as much as it is a dangerous time for these programs for articulate as a group and a set of subgroups. As Mohammed said, he brought up what’s important to Mohammed. And I encourage people like Mohammed to bring up what is important to you.
>> Captionist: I can stay over, yes.
>> Brian: Work with mix and other advocacy groups. I’m a scene. I work. I have a disability. So the concept of pitting seniors with disabilities against folks we low their retirement years with disabilities, the concept is ludicrous. It’s ridiculous when you think about it. Significant numbers of seniors from disabilities.
>> Captionist: I can stay on, yes.
>> Brian: Because this is NDLA, I think the opportunity to craft what we do want in modernizing these programs is significantly more important or certainly as important as fighting the wrong headed people who are full of rhetoric in Washington I actually think the majority of the rhetoric of people who want to put these programs is largely focused in Washington, and I don’t that they are out in the community of the community, as everyone has spoken, is largely supportive of these programs, no matter what constituent group you talk about. So my point hire is for NDLA to look at this as an opportunity to bring forward our recommendations of what we do want to modernize these programs and let that be a significant and as important a part of the debate as folks who would want to cut these programs. Thank you.
>> Jessica: Thank you for that commented, Brian. That is really helpful. Unfortunately, we are over time, so I’m going to have to end the call here. We can continue the discussion on Facebook and listserv. I know there was a good discussion on the chat just now you and there was certainly discussion over the comments that were just made, so I hope people will follow up there. Our next call will be the third Tuesday in February, and I believe that call is going to be on police brutality, so I hope folks will join us for that. Thank you again to our speakers, our participants, and our captioner. We really appreciate the information and the discussion.
>> Has this call been recorded so that I can listen to it at a later time? Because I got in late.
>> Jessica: We’re recording and the transcript, which will be on the NDLA website, which is disability leadership.org.
>> Thank you very much.
>> Jessica: Thank you, everyone. Have a great day.
>> Thanks, Bye.
(End of call.)
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