Social Security: Vital Protection Hidden in Plain Sight

Imagine, after working your entire adult life, you develop lupus. You suffer chronic pain and fatigue. As the lupus becomes more difficult to control, your lupus begins to affect other organs of your body. Unable to continue working due to these symptoms, you wonder how you’re going to support your family.

Now imagine the relief when you realize a program you’ve been paying into all your working years will help keep you and your family afloat.

That program is Social Security.

HOW SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY HELPS

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935, he described its purpose as guaranteeing the “security of the men, women, and children of the nation against certain hazards and vicissitudes of life.” In the decades since its signing, our nation’s Social Security system has kept millions of Americans out of poverty and hardship.

Social Security is much more than just a retirement program. It offers vital protection and peace of mind to nearly all American workers and their families in case of serious illness or injury before retirement. In the event of death, it even provides some financial protection to the surviving family members. It’s funded by your FICA payroll taxes – as you work, you buy premiums for this important insurance.

After advocating for and representing workers with disabilities for 20 years, I have seen firsthand the vital role Social Security plays in people’s lives when they need it most. Take, for example, the story of Mrs. J, a client of mine from Warren. After working 25 years in a factory, her lupus symptoms progressed to the point where she was unable to continue working. Unable to keep up with the production standards required in her job, Mr. J was terminated, losing the paycheck she and her family relied upon to pay their bills.

With her savings quickly evaporating, Mrs. J soon faced a foreclosure notice. As her bills piled up, I was ultimately able to assist Mrs. J in getting approved for disability benefits for which she met the strict criteria. The accompanying disability payments allowed Mrs. J to remain in the home where she had raised her children. For Mrs. J, Social Security saved her from homelessness.

In addition to providing a foundation of economic security to millions of Americans, Social Security also boosts the economy, because when people receive their benefits, they spend them in their local communities. In 2012, Social Security benefits supported more than $1 trillion in economic output and more than 9 million jobs nationwide. Here in Michigan, Social Security benefits supported more than $54 million in economic output and more than 381,000 jobs.

SHOULD SOCIAL SECURITY BE CUT?

Critics of vital social insurance programs like Social Security have been spreading myths and misinformation because they want to see benefits cut. The truth is that benefits are so modest that many seniors and people with disabilities are already barely scraping by. Social Security benefits make up at least 90 percent of income for half of all disabled beneficiaries – and with benefits averaging just around $1,130 per month ($35/day), that doesn’t leave any room for cuts.

Should we make it harder to qualify for Social Security in case of disability? We need to keep in mind that America’s disability standard is already among the harshest and most restrictive in the developed world. It is very difficult to obtain disability benefits in the United States and here in Michigan. With more than six in 10 applicants denied benefits, even after all stages of appeal, making it even harder to qualify would be devastating to disabled workers and their families.

Instead of letting critics try to make cuts to this vital lifeline, let’s remember that Social Security belongs to the American workers who paid into it. Any of us could find ourselves in Mrs. J’s shoes tomorrow. That’s why it’s so critical that our politicians work together to keep Social Security strong for generations to come. After all, we’re in this together.