Harkin on Disability and Social Security Privatization
Something big has been left out of the great national debate over privatization of Social Security. Most Americans don't realize that Social Security is more than a retirement program; it is also an insurance program for workers who become disabled before they retire.
The privatizers have painted a rosy picture of young Americans riding a bull market to a bountiful retirement. But what about the nearly 7 million workers with disabilities and their dependents who currently rely on Social Security disability benefits, often for 100 percent of their income? And what about the three in 10 now-young Americans who will become disabled at some point in their life? Under privatization, will their disability benefits be slashed by the same 30 percent to 50 percent as retirement benefits, pushing them below the poverty level?
The privatizers are not the only ones dodging these momentous questions. President Bush's Commission to Strengthen Social Security devoted just two pages in its 256-page final report to the topic of disability benefits, despite the fact these payments account for 17 percent of all Social Security expenditures. The commission urged the president to initiate a "separate policy development process" to address the disability program, but he opted not to touch this hot potato.
The problem is that all the commission's budget projections assume that disability benefits will be cut the same as retirement benefits. In the commission's final report, according to the Associated Press, "disability benefits get reduced along with retiree benefits, in some cases up to 46 percent. The cuts were used to make the plan's finances add up in the report."