Imagine, after working your entire adult life, you suffer a stroke. You suffer paralysis, you lose your ability to speak, and you have significantly impaired short- and long-term memory. Unable to work for the foreseeable future, you have no idea how you’re possibly 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.
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 then, our nation’s Social Security system has kept millions of Americans out of poverty and hardship.
While many think of Social Security as a retirement program, it’s so much more than that. It offers vital protection and peace of mind to nearly all American workers and their families, so that if they face serious disability, illness, or injury before reaching retirement, they’ll have something to fall back on. And, in the event of death, it provides some financial protection to the surviving family members. It is funded by your FICA payroll taxes — as you work, you buy premiums for this important insurance. I am constantly amazed at how few people are aware of this program.
After advocating for 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 A.C. (name changed for privacy). He held a responsible management job for a local retailer. He worked long hours in a job that required walking throughout the day. Increasing back pain led to surgery, which did not ease the pain. He bravely tried his best to continue to work; but just couldn’t do it anymore.
A.C. applied for Social Security disability and it was granted. He was one of the lucky ones who was granted early on in the process — he was able to keep his house and did not face the risk of foreclosure.
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 communities.
In 2012, Social Security benefits supported more than $1 trillion in economic output and more than 9 million jobs nationwide. For Connecticut, this means more than $16 million in economic output and more than 102,000 jobs.
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 people with disabilities are already barely scraping by.
Most people I see have no other means of support other than Social Security disability. With benefits averaging just around $1,130 per month — and less for many people — that doesn’t leave any room for cuts.
In Hartford, the average time from application to receipt of benefits is two years. Many people with disabilities are denied benefits the first time they apply. They must then go through a lengthy and confusing appeals process.
Eventually, they will have a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. It takes a year to get a hearing after filing a request for a hearing. During this entire time period, the individual with disabilities has no income. Few people have any short term disability insurance or savings to tide them over. Many people are forced to live in shelters, with relatives or ex-spouses. People who cannot pay their mortgage lose their houses. The financial consequences of a disabling illness are devastating.
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 A.C.’s shoes tomorrow. That’s why it is so critical that our politicians work together to keep Social Security strong for generations to come. After all, we’re all in this together.
The writer is a Hartford area attorney who practices in the area of disability law, including Social Security disability.