A Social Security Administration office in San Francisco.
President Donald Trump has publicly vowed to protect Social Security.
Yet advocates for the program fear that his just released budget proposal would hit individuals hard when it comes to disability benefits, as it includes cuts to the tune of $71 billion, according to one congressional estimate.
“This budget is a non-starter,” said Congressman John Larson, D-Conn., who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee.
“His proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare, food-assistance programs and more will only hurt those who are already struggling,” Larson said. “The president should live up to his promise, instead of breaking it.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month, the president affirmed his commitment to the program during his State of the Union speech.
“We will always protect your Medicare and we will always protect your Social Security. Always,” Trump said.
However, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, an advocacy organization, said the budget suggests otherwise.
That’s because the spending plan includes a proposal to add an additional layer of reviews for individuals who receive disability payments. The continuing reviews evaluate whether individuals are able to go back to work.
“They’re going to try to do more to move people off the rolls,” said Dan Adcock, director of government relations and policy at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare.
The Social Security Administration has stricter standards for qualifying for disability benefits than private plans or other government agencies. A worker is considered disabled for eligibility purposes if they have a severe medical condition that continues for at least a year or could result in death.
Of those who start receiving benefits at age 55, 1 in 6 men and 1 in 8 women die within five years of their disabilities, according to the Social Security Administration. Consequently, Trump’s efforts to reduce the number of people on disability might not be realistic, Adcock said.
“The vast majority of them are in no position to go back to work, given the severity of their disabilities,” Adcock said.
This isn’t the first time Trump has gone after disability benefits. Similar proposals have appeared in all three of his previous budgets, Adcock said.
But this year, the plans are more concrete. The Social Security Administration gave a preview of the new scrutiny in a proposed a rule in November.
“We don’t think it’s in the best interest of beneficiaries,” Adcock said.
Social Security Works, another advocacy organization, has also voiced concerns about the proposed change.
“I think they see disability benefits as low-hanging fruit,” said Social Security Works president Nancy Altman. “They think they can convince the American public that these are not people who need benefits.”
Paying for replacement cards
Meanwhile, the Social Security Administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget request also includes a proposal that would require individuals to pay up if they lose their Social Security card.
Original cards that are issued would still be free. But replacement cards would cost $25 if requested in person or by mail, and $7 if they’re ordered online.
“The new fee would partially offset the administrative costs of processing replacement card requests,” the agency’s budget document states. “It would also help us gradually move towards our goal of reducing dependence on the physical Social Security card, thereby lessening the risk of identity theft and fraud.”
One bright spot in this year’s budget is funding to boost services provided through its field offices and phone lines and address a backlog of insurance cases, Adcock said.
“That’s important because the agency has been so underfunded for several years that that affected their ability to provide customer service,” he said.