With Disability Cuts Likely to Advance in Congress, Progressive Groups Rally to Block Them

Progressive groups are calling on supporters to defend disability benefits, as legislation that would roll back the welfare state looks likely to advance in both the House and Senate.

The Coalition on Human Needs on Monday urged like-minded organizations to throw their weight behind a Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities lobbying campaign (CCD) after two bills aimed at tightening the screws on recipients of both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and unemployment insurance were introduced on the same day earlier this month.

The initiatives, which were proposed on Feb. 12, have the support of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Both men serve as the chairs of the committees that will deal with the legislation.

While the measures are aimed at stamping out what their backers decry as “double-dipping,” CCD said that the payments woven together form an important social safety net for some of the most vulnerable Americans–and one that is rather meager, to boot.

“These extremely modest benefits can be a lifeline to workers with disabilities who receive them, and their families – and as permitted by law are neither ‘double-dipping’ nor improper payments,” a CCD template letter dated Feb. 21 said. “We are deeply concerned by any prospect of worsening the economic security of workers with disabilities and their families.”

The bill Ryan is backing (HR 918) was introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas). It has ten other co-sponsors, all of whom are Republicans.

Hatch’s bill (S.499) has four co-sponsors–Sens. Daniel Coats (R-Ind.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.). It is likely to attract support from at least one Democrat–a similar piece of legislation proposed by Sen. Jeff Flake on Feb. 3, the Reducing Overlapping Payments Act, is being touted by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

“Those who are on Social Security Disability Insurance are supposed to be unable to work and those on unemployment insurance are supposed to be actively searching for job opportunities,” Manchin, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a press release issued when it was introduced. “It doesn’t make sense that individuals are allowed to collect these two checks at the same time.”

CCD said, however, that only those with significant disabilities unable to earn more than $1,090 per month in 2015 qualify for SSDI—a sum less than one third of the median American’s usual weekly earnings at the end of last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite Republicans’ stated goal of reducing the deficit, CCD said that less than one in one hundred Americans receive both SSDI and unemployment insurance, according to a 2012 Government Accountability Office study, and that those benefits, per person, totaled about $1,100 per month in 2010.