Mostly Avoids Troubling Benefit Changes
B’nai B’rith International is pleased to see a bipartisan budget deal passed the through both the Senate and the House of Representatives that funds the government through 2017 and ends several weeks of uncertainty over a potential government shutdown. This major piece of legislation is expected to be signed by President Obama.
The deal itself, though, is a mixed bag as it pertains to areas affecting seniors and low-income Americans.
First, the deal avoids a debt default, which could destabilize the world economy, and makes a government shutdown in December much less likely. Second, the deal raises the onerous caps on domestic spending for the next two years—evenly split between defense and non-defense programs. This will make it easier for Congress to appropriate funds to domestic human needs programs that provide services to the elderly and those less fortunate.
Aside from those headlines, the biggest take away from the completion of this deal was that Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program beneficiaries will no longer be forced to wait in fear that the program will be cut in some way to avoid the anticipated 2016 shortfall. B’nai B’rith has long called for a “clean reallocation,” which would have addressed this Social Security benefit. While this instead comes at some cost, it is a better deal than many feared.
While we support eliminating the relatively minor amounts of fraud in the program, we are still concerned that allocating substantial resources to ferret out these infrequent frauds will shortchange other parts of the program and make DI applicants face longer waits before they can receive benefits. This has already been a significant problem for many years.
B’nai B’rith is also satisfied that there is now a strategy for protecting the 30 percent of individuals who do not receive Social Security and were therefore facing large Medicare rate hikes. The budget shields these people from a confluence of somewhat incongruent states laws that would have enacted steep increases in 2016. While not a perfect solution, the plan in the budget deal is a massive improvement over what would have happened without intervention.
“Frankly, the deal is better than many aging advocates feared, and the extension of Disability Insurance’s solvency is a great relief,” B’nai B’rith International Associate Executive Vice President Mark D. Olshan said. “We are certainly pleased that many of the long rumored cuts to Social Security and other programs were not included here. While we’d like to see that as a sign those cuts are off the table, we intend to remain outspoken and vigilant in the future to protect these critical programs for older adults.”