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Disability cut would be 'death sentence,' says Social Security chief

A failure by Congress to shore up the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund would be a “death sentence” for its beneficiaries, the acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration said Wednesday.

At a Senate Budget Committee hearing focused on the fund, Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyOvernight Energy: Fight over miners' benefits risks shutdown | Flint aid crosses finish line in House Senate sends annual defense bill to Obama's desk Dem senator: Trump’s EPA pick is ‘corruption’ MORE (D-Ore.) asked what would happen to people with significant injuries if the program is not sustained.

“I don’t want to be dramatic, but I’ve worked with this population my whole career. I think we [would] give them a death sentence,” acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin said.

The disability fund is projected to be exhausted by the end of 2016, and lawmakers are divided over how to deal with the shortfall. If Congress fails to act, beneficiaries would receive a nearly 20 percent cut in benefits. 

Colvin said that on average, recipients get about $1,200 a month and depend on it for paying rent, buying food and other necessities. 

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“You’re barely surviving,” she said. “If you get a cut there, you’re not going to be able to survive.”

Republicans largely oppose keeping the disability fund afloat by reallocating revenue from the Social Security retirement fund to the disability fund. Colvin and many Democrats note Congress has previously approved 11 reallocations between the two funds on a bipartisan basis.

“You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” several GOP senators said during the hearing.

Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteDem senator tears up in farewell speech Juan Williams: McConnell won big by blocking Obama Battle brews over Trump’s foreign policy MORE (R-N.H.) said Congress would be “kicking the can down the road” if it approved another reallocation.

If Congress allows the trust funds to borrow from each other, the Congressional Budget Office has projected both would remain solvent until 2030.

In President Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget proposal unveiled last week, the administration proposed another reallocation as a temporary solution. But Ayotte said she wants to see “a concrete proposal” from the White House that offers a long-term plan for fixing Social Security.

The GOP-led House in January approved a rule that would make a reallocation of the payroll tax more difficult.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats: Where the hell are You? Sanders on Trump pick: This is how a rigged economy works Trump picks Goldman Sachs chief for top economic adviser: report MORE (I-Vt.), the ranking member on the Senate Budget panel, proposed raising Social Security taxes on the wealthy in order to extend the life of the entitlement program.