Social Security Investment Accounts Would Hurt Disabled
A new General Accounting Office study sent to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) yesterday revealed that Americans with disabilities would lose income and benefits under proposals by President Bush and others to establish individual investment accounts within the Social Security program, the New York Times reports. The study concluded that "even under the best of circumstances, Social Security reform proposals would reduce benefits" for people with disabilities. According to the report, for an employee with "average earnings" who begins receiving disability benefits at age 45, such plans would reduce lifetime benefits -- now about $786 per month -- by 4% to 18%. "Most disability insurance beneficiaries would be adversely affected by the reform proposals," the GAO concluded. The New York Times reports also found that proposals for individual investment accounts "often are paired with proposals that would reduce Social Security benefits." Advocates of private accounts, however, argue that income from investing in stocks and bonds would "largely offset" the reduced benefits. While the GAO said that "some or even many retirees" might benefit from individual investment accounts, the office reported, "Income from the individual accounts was not sufficient to compensate for the decline in the insurance benefits that disabled beneficiaries would receive" under such proposals.
In 1999, Reps. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and Charles Stenholm (D-Texas) proposed a plan to establish individual investment accounts, and a Kolbe aide said the Arizona lawmaker is "revising" the bill to address concerns about benefit reductions for the disabled. "We realize that a person who is permanently disabled at the age of 25 may have only five or six years to accumulate money in a personal account," the aide said. The GAO also found that Social Security reform proposals, by reducing benefits, would probably increase the costs of Supplemental Security Income, a separate program that provides cash assistance to low-income Americans with disabilities. In addition, more than 30% of those receiving disability benefits suffer from "mental impairments," which could prevent them from making "wise" investment decisions. "This [GAO] report is a wake-up call to policymakers, to all of us in Congress," Harkin said, adding, "Social Security is not just about retirement. It's also about protecting people who are wiped out by accident or illness that leaves them disabled. You can plan your retirement, but you can't plan for disability. It can happen to anyone at any time." He added, "Before we reform Social Security, we better stop and think about people with disabilities because they are among the most vulnerable in society" (Pear, New York Times, 2/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.