The Debt Ceiling and Social Security Reform

August 12,2008
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Unless Congress acts before August 2, the United States government will be unable to pay its bills. This, for all intents and purposes, is the “debt ceiling” issue that has been splashed across newspapers and debated on cable TV programs in recent weeks: the feds are dangerously close to reaching the amount of debt that Uncle Sam is legally permitted to take on and, if the limit is not raised, the U.S. may default on interest due on some Treasury bonds.
In hammering out a deal to raise the ceiling, many in Washington and beyond are calling for sweeping changes to Social Security as we know it. As experienced Social Security disability lawyers, we are concerned about how any proposed changes to the system will play out.
In addition to providing retirement benefits the Social Security Administration (SSA) also assists people who are unable to work due to physical or mental impairment. These programs are funded by government trust funds and as a result are not part of the federal deficit that is on the verge of reaching its statutory limit. Still, the trust funds are expected to run out by 2036, and many lawmakers are calling on Social Security reform as part of any debt ceiling raise deal.
“We still have all these proposed caps and triggers out there, which probably won’t include Social Security because they usually understand that Social Security is a separate program, separately financed,” AARP legislative policy director David Certner told The Huffington Post. “But not all of the proposals out there do exclude Social Security, for instance the CAP Act.”
The CAP Act is legislation proposed by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that would both institute a limit on all federal spending and “eliminate the deceptive ‘off-budget’ distinction for Social Security,” according to the law’s sponsors. Meanwhile Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) recently proposed measures under which the Social Security retirement age would gradually rise, finally reaching 69 in 2027, and the yearly cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) would be shaved by 1 percent. This, of course, means that Americans who have paid taxes into the program will work longer and receive less in benefits upon retirement.
However, it does appear that changes must be made to insure the continuing viability of all aspects of the Social Security program; regardless of whether they are done in connection with the debt-ceiling agreement.


While something must be done to ensure that Social Security retirement and disability benefits remain available beyond 2036, as Social Security lawyers we understand how vital these benefits are for working Americans across the country. Roughly 3.2 million people applied for Social Security disability benefits last year, according to CBS News. As Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael J. Astrue notes, “[f]or over 75 years, Social Security has touched the lives of virtually every American, whether it is after the loss of a loved one, at the onset of disability, or during the transition from work to retirement.”
If you are disabled and unable to work for 12 months or more, you are eligible for Social Security disability benefits. You’ve worked and paid your taxes; you’ve paid into the system. Applying for disability benefits is simply applying for a benefit for which you have already made payments. An experienced disability attorney can assist you in compiling the necessary evidence to support a claim, file the claim on your behalf and represent you on appeal, if necessary.