Tomorrow, August 14, 2015, is the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Few Americans working today can remember a time when Social Security wasn’t part of the social fabric of America.
Since the Social Security retirement program was enacted under Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1935, it has expanded in important ways. In 1939, benefits for dependent survivors of wage earners were added. And in 1956, disability insurance benefits were added. Today, as in the past, millions of Americans rely on these Social Security programs for income in the event of their own retirement, disability or death of a family wage-earner.
While Social Security is a part of our social fabric, that doesn’t mean that we can take its future for granted. As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of Social Security on August 14, this is the time to ensure that the Social Security programs remain strong for the next generation. Now more than ever, as an increasing number of workers approach retirement, we cannot afford to jeopardize the stability it provides millions of families.
Social Security offers vital protection to nearly all American workers and their families, so that if they face serious disability, illness, or injury before reaching retirement age, they will receive a monthly benefit. And, in the event of death, it provides some financial protection to the surviving family members. It is funded by your payroll taxes – as you work, you buy premiums for this important insurance.
After advocating for workers with disabilities for 44 years, I have seen first-hand the vital role Social Security plays in people’s lives when they need it most.
In addition to providing a foundation of economic security to millions of Americans, Social Security also boosts the economy, because when people receive this compensation, they spend it in their communities. In 2012, Social Security supported more than $1 trillion in economic output.
It is important to keep in mind that many of the people who rely on this program – seniors and people with disabilities – are barely scraping by. Social Security benefits make up at least 90 percent of income for half of all disabled beneficiaries, and it averages just around $1,130 per month ($35 per day). This doesn’t leave any room for cuts. And, the disability standard is extremely strict – requiring extensive medical documentation for serious impairments and conditions. In fact, more than 6 in 10 applicants are denied, even after all stages of appeal.
As part of the Social Security system, Disability Insurance is an important public structure, like our highways or water system that needs to be maintained. There are a few easy ways that Congress can make the program more efficient – including fully funding the Social Security Administration so they can hire more staff to process claims, and rebalancing the trust funds again to ensure there is adequate funding for years to come. In the lead up to the 2016 election, we should all ask candidates where they stand on this critical program.
Social Security belongs to the American workers who paid into it. Any of us could find ourselves disabled. That’s why it is so critical that our politicians work together to keep Social Security strong for generations to come.