40th anniversary of Social Security reform

Oct. 30 is the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Amendments of 1972, and we need to recommit ourselves to these reforms today.

These amendments made two big positive changes in the lives of Americans with disabilities.

First, the law created the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, providing monthly payments to low-income people with disabilities.

The Social Security Administration estimates that 8 million people (including children under 18) will receive $47.6 billion in SSI payments this year. These are disabled people who have no adequate means of support because they are unable to earn an income through employment or they have not worked enough in the past to receive an income through Social Security Disability Insurance. Currently, the average monthly SSI payment is $517.

Second, the law also expanded Medicare coverage to people with disabilities under age 65. Today, Medicare covers 8 million people who are under 65 and disabled. Medicare helps them pay for essential but expensive goods and services that keep them healthy and active, such as therapies and equipment like wheelchairs.

Ironically, it’s doubtful that these amendments would pass today in our regressive political climate, though they were signed by a Republican president, Richard Nixon, and more than 100 Republicans voted in favor of them in the House of Representatives.

In fact, today’s Republican leaders are doing their best to drag Americans with disabilities in the opposite direction. The Romney-Ryan plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program, for example, could leave people with disabilities who depend on Medicare without the coverage that they have currently.

The best way to commemorate these landmark reforms, which have helped millions of Americans with disabilities, is to resolve to resist the pernicious schemes to undo them.

Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT (www.adapt.org). He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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