Congress Set to Financially Squeeze and Crush Disabled Americans in 2016

By C. Arthur Reavis

On the first day of the new Congressional session this year house Republicans pushed through a rule change that prevents all members from addressing and/or approving any financial fix to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, unless such a fix is tied to broader Social Security “reforms,” such as the eventual privatization of Social Security. This new rule will cut benefits for disabled people currently on SSDI and possibly lead to benefit cuts for all seniors. People on disability could see cuts to their income of up to 20%. Can you afford a 20% pay cut?

Why the change? Disability is set to run out of funds sometime late in 2016 due, in part, to an aging population and a larger population of disabled individuals. Congress has traditionally taken action by shoring the program up with short term fixes. But, since privatization of Social Security has long been a goal of the Corporate Class and those politicians who benefit the most from corporate campaign donations, coupled with a surge in the “War on the Poor” and the popular Conservative myth that SSDI is a form of ‘backdoor welfare’ this rule change was added to the Omnibus Bill. Congress lead by House GOP members voted overwhelming in favor of this rule change, and the entire Omnibus bill, which also included a plethora of other corporate give-a-ways and anti-worker provisions. Our local Congressmen Richard Hanna R-NY-22nd (Binghamton Office #: 607-723-0212) voted in favor of this Omnibus Bill. It remains to be seen if Mr. Hanna will do anything to help the more than 20,000 individuals (including children) in his district on disability. Moreover, there are 7,880 (including 1,835 children) people in Broome County, part of Mr. Hanna’s district, that will be directly harmed by this cut. For many of our neighbors, the most vulnerable in our society, SSDI is their only source of income.

Nationally, as of 2013 (the most recent year available) there are about 11 million citizens (3.4% of the total population) on SSDI who earn on average about $14,000/year.* Here in Broome County, population 197,534, there are approximately 7,880 people (4%) including 1,835 children on SSDI who earn approximately $8,271/year. Additionally, there are 47,090 Social Security beneficiaries or, 24% of Broome County’s population.

Given the high percent of persons receiving these benefits it will have a drastic, negative effect on our already struggling local economy. The Federal Government though SSDI pays Broome County recipients and families about 4.2 million dollars a month (far below the National average) or 50 million dollars annually. Some of the these recipients and families depend on this money for such necessities as specialized services for disabled children, institutionalization for very severely disabled individuals, home modifications, specialized equipment, and insurance co-pays. Not to mention these benefits provide these individuals and families with food, clothing and shelter. Additionally, some of this money also goes directly to caretakers, employers, institutions and employees who provide these services. Can Broome County really afford $10 million (annually) taken from its already anemic economy? Especially when that loss disproportionally affects Broome County’s most vulnerable citizens.

Adults and children on SSDI are THE most vulnerable members of OUR society and yet “OUR” Congress is using them and the very resources they depend on for survival as a political tiddly-wink in their corporate-sponsored, corporate-funded and Wall St. backed scheme to “reform;” i.e. privatize Social Security. The privatization of Social Security has been a financial auto-erotic fantasy of the Corporate Class for decades. Essentially, privatizing Social Security would be giving OUR public tax dollars to a multitude of private/Capitalist interests, that do not give a damn about the citizens of this nation, so those private/Capitalist interests could gamble with them on Wall St.- Think sub-prime loans, the housing market collapse and the “Great Recession,” which was, and still is, a Depression for millions of families. SSDI and SSI help keep millions of Americans, and 24% of Broome County residents, alive and with roofs over their heads. To gamble with those public resources would be financial terrorism and the largest heist in American history.

What can we do? Firstly, call Rep. Richard Hanna (607-723-0212) at his local office. Then call both New York Senators Chuck Schumer (607-772-6792) and Kirsten Gillibrand (315-448-0470) and let all three of them know that ANY cuts to the SSDI program and disabled citizens is unacceptable. Then write to the People’s Press (and any other media outlets) about your story and how these cuts will affect you or a loved one.

After that, if no action has been taken by “OUR” political “leaders” to prevent ALL cuts to the SSDI, and possible privatization of Social Security we can start to organize locally and nationally: We PROTEST! These protests should include, but not be limited to acts of civil disobedience, such as sit-ins, peaceful but disruptive behaviors wherever the politicians who can prevent such cuts are. Moreover, we must consider, if no action is taken to prevent these catastrophic cuts blocking/chaining one’s self to the entrances of Congressional representatives and Senators. Ultimately, if reason fails, and it often does when Capitalist interests hi-jack democratic values and moral imperatives, we must resort to acts of non-violent civil disobedience and economic disruptions.      

* This figure does NOT include the families with children, if it did include the additional 1,835 children on SSDI the annual income would be even lower. However, those 1,835 families with children on SSDI are facing the same 20% cut in benefits.

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