You might have heard that President Trump is proposing cuts to Social Security. He has insisted since he got on the campaign trail in 2015 that he would “not touch” Social Security or Medicare as president. He reiterated that pledge in a tweet last week after his fiscal year 2021 budget was released.
However, the president’s budget does include cuts to Social Security, just not to the program you’re probably thinking of — the one that pays retirees and their spouses a monthly income. Instead the budget calls for cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, which benefit disabled children and adults.
The budget includes spending $45 billion on return-to-work programs for people with disabilities and $35 billion to “reform disability programs and reduce Social Security improper payments,” according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. You can read it at http://www.crfb.org/papers/analysis-presidents-fy-2021-budget.
This one is personal for me. I have no quarrel with reform where it’s needed or reducing (or eliminating) improper payments, although I don’t know whether we have a $35 billion problem in this country. But as someone who relies on monthly disability income, I’m concerned about unnecessary cuts.
Social Security pays disability benefits to people who can’t work because they have a medical condition that’s expected to last at least a year or is terminal. Not all disabilities are visible. I have been diagnosed with three incurable but treatable diseases and I qualified for the program in 2015. I knew of only two of them when I filed for benefits because I was too sick to work. Between the time I applied and was approved (six months), I was diagnosed with the third, ovarian cancer, which has recurred twice and has required ongoing treatment.
Still, I returned to work part time in 2017, thanks to the managing editor of this newspaper. Social Security permits this but imposes monthly income limits, which is fine because I want to work, but I don’t have the stamina for a full-time job anymore. Just as important, after 24 months of disability, I qualified for Medicare even though I’m younger than 65. I’ve still incurred some significant medical expenses, but nowhere near what I’d be facing without Medicare coverage.
Applying for benefits was hard for me, despite being so sick and knowing that I had paid into the program for years while I was working. I feel fortunate to have this safety net, but I’d rather be healthy enough not to need it. I imagine most people getting disability benefits feel the same way.
The application process is rigorous, especially when you’re sick, and the program includes periodic eligibility reviews. I’ve undergone one already.
I don’t know how Congress will respond to the president’s budget. Maybe I don’t have anything to worry about. But I’m going to contact my congressman and senators anyway. You might want to contact yours too.
Molly Callahan is a freelance writer and editor from Rocky River.