Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans
When we talk about infrastructure, we can’t forget about the people who make it happen: Millions of Americans who build skyscrapers, assemble cars, dig mines, and clean hotel rooms. They work in some of the most physically demanding jobs in our country.
After decades of backbreaking labor, many of these workers’ bodies break down. They find themselves in their 50s or early 60s, unable to continue to work. Fortunately, they have been contributing to Social Security.
The Social Security benefits we earn with every paycheck provide protection when we are no longer able to work. In addition to old age benefits, Social Security provides insurance against the loss of wages in the event of disability, as well as the death of a family breadwinner. Since the bodies of people in physically demanding jobs frequently break down before they reach retirement age, they are more likely to claim Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.
These workers, the backbone of our country, deserve to receive the benefits they have earned as quickly and hassle-free as possible. But Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul and his deputy David Black — whose salaries are paid from the Social Security contributions of American workers — are doing exactly the opposite. Since taking office, Saul and Black have put roadblocks in the way of the hardest working Americans, making it more difficult for them to claim the benefits they’ve earned.
Not surprisingly, both Saul and Black were handpicked by former President Donald Trump. Even though Trump is gone, they are continuing to carry out his agenda instead of President Joe Biden’s.
Despite his rhetoric, Donald Trump was an enemy of our Social Security system. He once wrote a book calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme and advocating for its privatization. While he hid his true beliefs once he chose to run for president, he surrounded himself with Social Security opponents. His budget director, Mick Mulvaney, argued that Social Security Disability Insurance isn’t really part of Social Security. Moreover, these anti-Social Security ideologues insist, with no evidence whatsoever, that SSDI is full of fraud.
In fact, SSDI and its companion program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), have among the strictest eligibility standards of any disability programs in the world. Over 60 percent of applicants are denied. The incidence of Social Security fraud is tiny — much less than private insurance companies experience. Republican allegations of Social Security disability “fraud” are just as baseless — and similarly motivated — as their claims of voter fraud.
Saul and Black are cut from the same cloth as Trump, Mulvaney and the other anti-Social Security ideologues. They are waging a war on people with disabilities, making it more difficult to claim SSDI and SSI and easier to take the benefits away. And they haven’t stopped just because the person who picked them, Donald Trump, is no longer in the White House.
Quite the contrary. On April 2, 2021, a new regulation went into effect. The regulation makes it harder for people with “musculoskeletal impairments” to claim disability benefits. That’s a fancy sounding term used to obscure who is being targeted — people whose bodies gave out after 30 or 40 years of working construction, cleaning hotel rooms, or digging mines and contributing to Social Security.
The regulation that just went into effect reverses our Social Security system’s longtime recognition that people who are unquestionably unable to continue to work should not have to jump through time-consuming and unnecessary hoops to receive their benefits. The new regulation says, not so fast. Now, these workers who gave so much to our country will be at risk of bankruptcy, homelessness, and even death while they prove to Saul and Black’s satisfaction that they truly can’t continue to support themselves through work.
Charles T. Hall, a North Carolina lawyer who has represented people with disabilities since 1979, explains that “there was never any point to the [new regulation] other than to deny more claimants. Any other reasons Social Security has given for these changes have been nothing more than window dressing.”
This cruel rule change is in direct opposition to President Biden’s agenda of protecting and expanding Social Security. He needs to reverse it immediately and make sure that the Social Security Administration is working for the American people, not against us.
Nancy Altman is president of Social Security Works.