Last week, the Senate took up debate on transportation funding. Republicans agreed to fund a transportation bill for Americans only if it also denied disability insurance benefits to disabled persons who had received unemployment benefits during any time period when they were unable to work because of disability. In addition, the Republican proposal would deny benefits to anyone who had an outstanding felony warrant without regard to the time frame as long a state gave assurances that it intended to pursue the warrant – whether it ever actually did so or not.
Senate Democrats immediately objected to the unemployment insurance bar to disability and that provision was quietly withdrawn. A few Democrats, however, agreed to the warrant provision in the bill, which in effect denied disability insurance benefits indefinitely to workers who had never been convicted of any crime.
I wrote to our Virginia Senators with the following comment:
“Criminal warrants are commonly not acted on for one reason or another without ever being officially dismissed or withdrawn by police or prosecutors. Will the states be bound to follow up with a “never mind” message at some point in order to release disability insurance to a disabled person who has paid his or her premiums for the coverage? How long is it appropriate for a state to tell SSA that a warrant is intended to be “pursued”? Five years? Ten years? Twenty? Forever?
As Senators Warner and Kaine surely know, a Social Security disability insurance policy is constitutionally protected property. Is this legislation creating a new class of unfortunates that will be left in the same situation as those who have been subjected to civil forfeiture without ever having been convicted of a crime?
In addition, I hope that the unemployment offset doesn’t creep in to this legislation down the road. As an employer, my firm has never had to lay off an employee because of disability, but if it ever has to do so, I sincerely hope that the unemployment insurance that we pay our premiums for, and the disability insurance that we and our employees pay the premiums for, will both be available to cushion the financial disaster that comes with disability. This kind of budget gimmick really hits our most vulnerable citizens, who shouldn’t fall victim to budget deal making no matter how politically powerless they may be.”
Stay tuned. We’re sure this is only a small part of the attack on disabled persons.