Trump Drive to Cut Social Security Disability Benefits Could Kill Thousands

Interview with Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, conducted by Scott Harris

[Producer’s note: Correction: Our interviewee referred to SocialSecurity.org for public comments. The correct website is SocialSecurityWorks.org, which has a press release on the new Trump rules for Social Security Disability. The press release includes the link for public comments.]

In keeping with its pattern of advocating for cruel cuts in social programs impacting the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, the Trump regime is now targeting Social Security disability benefits. The president’s proposed rules change would require millions of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries to re-prove their eligibility for benefits as often as every six months, more frequently than is currently required.

Opponents of the policy say that the goal of the rules change, that would affect some 4.4 million people if it were to be implemented, would slash the benefits of hundreds of thousands of disabled Americans. Adding another layer of complex paperwork to the process of obtaining Social Security Disability eligibility, cut the benefits from some 200,000 recipients when Ronald Reagan implemented a similar rules change in the 1980s. Reagan was later forced to reverse that policy, but not before more than 20,000 people died after their benefits were cut.

Although corporate news media has paid little attention to this threat aimed at disabled Social Security recipients, an increasing number of people are posting their opposition to the Trump rules change on a federal comments page.  Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, who talks about the impact of Trump’s proposed Social Security rules change that could take away benefits from hundreds of thousands of Americans.

ALEX LAWSON: So what we’re talking about is in this country we have the second most stringent disability insurance system, long-term disability insurance system in the world. We do not have a system where there’s all these people getting benefits they don’t deserve. Absolutely categorically false narrative there. Our system is so incredibly stringent that if we have a problem — and we do – it’s the other direction. It’s that there’s actually all these people who should be getting benefits that aren’t getting benefits. And when we’re talking about folks with disabilities, you can very easily get into somebody who, the only source of income they have is their Social Security Disability Insurance. And you’re talking hundreds of dollars a month and that’s to pay everything, medical bill, rent, the whole thing. And maybe they have enough leftover to send a $5 card for their grandchildren on Christmas or something like that.

But you know what I’m saying is I don’t think we need to be aiming for — and we shouldn’t as a country — for the bare minimum that people should survive. Even that’s too much for this administration because they’re looking at folks who, you know, are living on literally hundreds of dollars a month, and they’re saying that’s who’s going to pay for the tax cuts to billionaires and corporations that we just passed. $1.3 trillion to billionaires and CEOs who then bought back their own stocks to inflate their numbers so they could buy another yacht.

But this administration is saying other people who should pay for that – people with disabilities who can no longer work due to their disabilities. That is the immorality of the benefits cuts that this administration is proposing. Well, we know from case studies in the 1980s that are widely reported is that you have people who are absolutely unable to work, whose disabilities make it absolutely impossible for them to work, but they could not actually, again, oftentimes due to their disabilities, could not complete the paperwork marathon that is unleashed on them. And so their benefits are taking taken away and they die in the time that it takes somebody to, you know, get the paperwork back into the system where the system was finding, they were overturning at a rate of 60 percent. So 60 percent of the people kicked off the rolls or given their benefits back because they, they found that they were inappropriate. So just think about that, but in that time, tens of thousands of them died. That’s what we know will happen from this policy.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Alex, what is your group doing to effectively oppose these changes? I know there’s a public comment period where people can provide feedback to the administration on these proposed changes when it comes to disability insurance under Social Security. Maybe lay out a little bit about what you’re organizing across the country right now.

ALEX LAWSON: It’s three things. The rule writing in public comments can go to SocialSecurityWorks.org and there’s a link that will take you over to where you can put your comments in on the rule. It’s about talking to your member of Congress and telling them to raise the issue. Both Republicans and Democrats saying that they cannot allow the Trump administration to push this rule through. And it’s talking to the media so that people all around this country understand that our Social Security system is under attack. It’s important to remember that Donald Trump, a huge part of why he was elected president was because he stood on that debate stage and he said, “Unlike the other Republicans up here, I will not cut your Social Security. I will not cut your Medicare. I will not cut your Medicaid and he’s been a liar on all three of those issues. And we know that people just do not understand that well enough. They don’t understand that Donald Trump has proposed cuts to Medicare, massive destruction of Medicare, destruction of Medicaid and massive cuts instead to Social Security and now just moving the authority of his office to steal people’s benefits. Then he said in an interview that dealing with Social Security would be a fun second term project.

Learn more about the impact of Trump regime’s Social Security rules change and how to submit your views during the public comment period, which ends on Jan. 17 by visiting Social Security Works at socialsecurityworks.org  or at www.regulations.gov/comment?D=SSA-2018-0026-0001.

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