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Social Security and the 2018 Midterm Elections

Congress faces difficult decisions about keeping the program funded. The tax cut that was enacted will add $1.8 trillion to the federal debt by 2028 according to the non partisan Congressional Budget Office. Depending on who is elected to Congress its possible Congress might look to Social Security as a way to reduce the debt. Social Security used to be referred to as the third rail of politics and nobody wanted to touch it. Over the past few years both retirement and disability benefits have been under attack. Last Spring House Republicans introduced a bill to require Congress to balance the budget. The legislation failed to pass but there was a lot of talk that in order to balance the budget there might have been cuts in Social Security.

The easiest and most immediate way for Congress to cut Social Security is through the funding it provides in spending bills. As an example the most recent appropriations bill which funds the government through September the Social Security Administration surprisingly received an increase of $480 million. This money raised the agency’s administrative budget to over $12 billion. A big part of the increase is targeted to speed up the time it takes to get a disability hearing. Social Security has been trying to speed up the time it takes to get a hearing for decades. The national average is currently over 600 days.

It would not surprise me if a substantial part of that money will also be used to increase the number of case reviews for individuals already on Social Security Disability. These reviews are referred to as continuing disability reviews or cdrs. For years Social Security has been increasing reviews for individuals already on disability. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, many of the Social Security advocacy groups cite the long delays in getting a disability hearing along with long wait times on Social Security phone lines and in person at field offices as evidence that the agency is struggling to keep up with increased demands. Not surprisingly many Americans are concerned the effect the election could have on their monthly benefits both today and in the future. Based upon the latest actuarial publications Social Security can pay benefits in full until 2034. Once the trust funds are depleted Social Security would be able to use revenue from payroll taxes to pay benefits, but only at about 77% of current amounts. The average current Social Security monthly benefit paid is $1404. Imagine reducing that by 23%! That would bring the average benefit down to $1081 per month. That would likely impact a beneficiary’s lifestyle dramatically. Will the next Congress be the one that finally fixes Social Security’s long term health? When voting, citizens need to consider what approach the Congress will take to fix this problem. Privatization - Changing the retirement age – payroll tax increase? Voters need to learn from the candidates; 1. How would the candidate improve service? 2. Is the candidate committed to an annual cost of living (COLA) payment? 3. Does the candidate want to raise the retirement age? 4. Does the candidate want to raise the amount of FICA taken out of each check? 5. Does the candidate want to raise the cap on payroll taxes? 6. What is the candidate’s position on disability?

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