Monday, December 10, 2012

Religious Leaders go to Washington to Defend SSDI

Last week, Former Connecticut Governor John Rowland used a section of his daily radio talk show on WTIC News 1080 to criticize the Social Security Disability Program.  I didn't have a chance to listen to the show but I was told that he blasted SSDI and criticized it for allegedly being plagued with  widespread misuse of public funds.  Readers of this blog who don't reside in Connecticut might not be aware that John Rowland was a Republican Governor who, in 2004, resigned from office during a corruption investigation.  He later plead guilty in federal court and served ten months in prison, followed by four months of house arrest.  
While John Rowland was using disability claimants as scapegoats for the financial havoc that corrupt politicians like him have caused, a group of well respected religious leaders were in Washington defending SSDI.  On December 4th, The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition gathered on Capitol Hill to speak out in support of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits program.  SSDI is an important lifeline for Americans unable to work due to illness or injury.  The two groups provided compelling testimony dispelling the myths about the program being widely abused and wasteful.  Their visit to Congress was a persuasive push to ensure that SSDI is not a victim of fiscal cliff negotiations.

The briefing featured presentations from two former SSDI recipients who were able to return to full-time employment after suffering tragic accidents that rendered them unable to work. The first, Donna Eshghi, a full-time nurse from Wichita, KS, contracted Hepatitis C after an unexpected needle-prick at work. A single mother, she was able to use SSDI benefits to support her family until she was able to return to work. And Deborah Krotenberg, an attorney from Atlanta, used SSDI benefits to keep herself afloat until she was able to return to work full-time after she was paralyzed in a serious car accident.

Kathy Ruffing, a Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,discussed her recent report: Social Security Disability Insurance is Vital to Workers With Severe Impairments. Additionally, Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, closed the event with an interfaith prayer.

"As a nation, we need to be committed to ensuring that when Americans become unable to work due to illness or accident, there is a safety net," said Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO of JCPA. "SSDI is literally a lifeline for millions of Americans. People who collect disability insurance have paid into the system and therefore it is critical that the benefits they have earned are available in their time of need. Recent political attacks on SSDI are misguided at best. And now, as Congress and the President find ways to negotiate away from the fiscal cliff, we hope they will remember that SSDI is a critical program that must be protected."

Some key facts about SSDI:
  • According to the most recent government statistics, in October of 2012, there were 8.8 million Americans collecting SSDI.
  • There are record numbers of SSDI recipients now not because the government has made it easier to collect disability benefits, but rather because Baby Boomers are getting older and more prone to illness or injury, as well as a record number of women in the workplace. In fact, Steve Goss, the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration recently testified about these trends before the United States Congress.
  • By cutting funding to the Social Security Disability Insurance program, states and local communities will feel the brunt of the burden.
  • Denying or delaying benefits to disabled Americans leads to additional human suffering. They might have to file for bankruptcy or apply for welfare; some may end up in home foreclosure or be unable to get medical treatment without their SSDI benefits.
  • It’s not easy to qualify for SSDI benefits. The qualifying standards have been raised and there are many diseases which no longer solely qualify claimants for benefits, like alcoholism, diabetes, drug abuse and obesity.