social security

The Deficit Hawks Have A Youth Wing

The group that is paying Millennials to care about the national debt:

Peterson bankrolls the “Campaign to Fix the Debt,” which calls for cuts to popular programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—an agenda Peterson has been pushing for a long time—in the name of eliminating deficits.

The Can Kicks Back is the project’s youth wing. Its mission is to convince Millennials that previous generations have kicked the deficit can down the road, and that the nation which young people are inheriting will be a bankrupt one. “Future investment has been cut to pay for present and past,” the group’s website reads, tracing the impending penury to a growth in entitlement spending.

It’s a pernicious tactic, according to Mary Bottari, deputy director of the Center for Media and Democracy.

“They’re trying to create a division between young people and the elderly,” she told Campus Progress.

The rest is at Campus Progress.

Meet SSI, The Most Important Government Program You’ve Never Heard Of


There are reasons to both love and hate SSI, one of the nation’s most vital public assistance programs for people with disabilities.

NPR provoked a firestorm late last month when they reported that Social Security disability benefits have become “our extremely expensive default plan” for dealing with our economy’s declining capacity to generate well-paying jobs. According to reporter Chana Joffe-Walt, disability insurance is the last resort for many Americans who can’t find work.

But there’s a whole population of people who don’t even qualify for what we know as “disability,” due to their lack of recent work history. For many of them, a program called Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the only safeguard against abject poverty.

While Joffe-Walt reported on the rising number of disabled children whose families rely on SSI, the program is actually a vital source of income for eight million Americans of all ages with severe disabilities. However, SSI is also an illuminating and unflattering reflection on how America treats its most vulnerable.

For some insight, I spoke with Ashley Moore, public benefits social worker and co-worker of mine at Bread for the City in Washington, DC.

SSI is “basically one of the only welfare programs that we do have for people either disabled or elderly or blind, and who have little to no income and low assets,” Moore said. Recipients get a maximum of $710 per month, well below the federal government’s own poverty line of $958 per month for an individual.

“Seven hundred and ten dollars doesn’t get you very far at all, especially in DC,” Moore said. “A lot of clients I work with live in a shelter.”

That $710 also comes with an arduous set of strings attached, designed to ensure that only folks who desperately need the money collect benefits. Finding other sources of income, getting help with living expenses, or accumulating savings all result in cuts to a person’s SSI.

The restrictions make sense from a budget perspective, but the result is “we’ve built this underclass system where you’re stuck at that level always, and there’s no way to get out of it,” Moore said. SSI benefits are enough to prevent people from dying, but not enough to free them from the hardship brought by poverty.

A decade of increasing child poverty has seen a substantial increase in children who rely on SSI. As America’s social safety net becomes more porous, programs like SSI make up an increasingly important part of the patchwork.

“I spend most of my week trying to help people get this benefit,” Moore said. “I don’t know what people would do without it, but it’s not even close to enough.”

Posted at Campus Progress. Photo: Flickr / Rachel Groves

Did NPR Get It Wrong on Disability?

A Social Security check. NPR reports that the number of Americans getting disability benefits has been growing for decades. Is it due to economics or demographics?

Dr. Perry Timberlake has an unorthodox way of evaluating whether his patients qualify for federal disability benefits. “I always ask them, ‘What grade did you finish?’” he told NPR’s Chana Joffe-Walt.

The idea is basically that job seekers with college degrees can get desk jobs that will minimize physical pain; less educated Americans cannot. The anecdote is central to Joffe-Walt’s extensive NPR feature on the growth in federal disability benefits. The story—which aired last weekend on This American Life, All Things Considered, and Planet Money—argues that the decades-long rise in disability payouts reflects a changed American economy.

“There are now millions of Americans who do not have the skills or education to make it in this country,“ according to the story. Disability benefits, Joffe-Walt reported, have become “our extremely expensive default plan” for dealing with the American jobs deficit.

But not everyone agrees with that assessment. The NPR report has drawn fire from a wide range of progressive groups, like Media Matters, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.

According to Rebecca Vallas, staff attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, Joffe-Walt misdiagnoses the cause of growth in people on disability. She told Campus Progress that the real drivers are demographic: “the aging of the baby boomers into their high-disability years, and the entry of women into the workforce in greater numbers in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”

“Those two factors taken together explain virtually all the growth that we’ve seen in the disability programs,” Vallas said.

A corollary concern: the NPR piece could be interpreted to say that the federal disability threshold is nebulous or even excessively lenient. “It’s squishy enough that you can end up with one person with high blood pressure who is labeled disabled and another who is not,” Joffe-Walt reported.

Not true, reply disability advocates. The government has a strict standard for disability (and high blood pressure doesn’t cut it, said Vallas). In total, less than 40 percent of applicants are approved. In some low-income communities, the rumor even circulates that Social Security denies everyone’s first benefit application.

Those who are approved are the Americans with the most severe handicaps, according to Vallas—so severe that one in five men and one in seven women die within five years of being approved for benefits.

For now, This American Life’s Ira Glass is standing by the story. “We know of no factual errors,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Published at Campus Progress. Photo: Flickr / David Ciani.

Making Cents: Rep Payee Clients Tackle Financial Literacy

From my day job:

Have you ever seen an $800 gas bill? Michael Jones has. A year ago, this DC resident was having trouble getting his bills paid, and the gas and electricity in his apartment had been cut off. He came to our Representative Payee Program for help.

“I came to this program because I wasn’t managing my money correctly,” Jones said. “I had my electric cut off because I wasn’t paying that, my gas cut off because I wasn’t paying that. I was back on my portion of the rent that I had to pay. I just wasn’t showing responsibility.”

Read the rest at Bread for the City.

Social Security Benefits Have Increased: But It’s Not Enough

Posted at breadforthecity.org:

We’ve got good news for many Bread for the City clients: as of the new year, recipients of Social Security are receiving slightly larger checks each month. This is the Social Security Administration’s first “Cost of Living Adjustment” since 2009.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a common federal disability benefit that over five million Americans rely upon to survive. For recipients of SSI, this ‘COLA’ increase amounts to a $24 bump in monthly income, from $674 to $698 — a total increase of $288 for the year.

It’s a modest increase, but for our clients who receive Social Security benefits, it does make a difference.

Continued here.