BEYOND THE NUMBERS
President Trump’s 2021 budget would make it harder for millions of people with disabilities to afford such basics as food, housing, and health care by cutting tens of billions of dollars from disability programs, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). And it would compound the hit for those with disabilities by also severely cutting Medicaid, food assistance, and housing vouchers, all while proposing to extend tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit those at the top.
Here’s how the budget would hurt people with disabilities:
- It breaks the President’s promise not to cut Social Security benefits. Among the reasons workers pay into Social Security is to protect themselves if a disability cuts their career short. The President has repeatedly promised not to cut Social Security, but his budget cuts SSDI benefits, including by cutting in half the retroactive benefits that disabled workers may receive. Under current law, for example, a worker who’s hurt in a car crash and applies for benefits after struggling to return to work can receive up to 12 months of retroactive benefits, but the Trump proposal would cut them to no more than six — a potential $7,500 average loss in critical, earned Social Security benefits that can help prevent bankruptcy or homelessness.
The budget would force people with disabilities into poverty and hardship. SSI protects the most vulnerable people with disabilities, including children. Most SSI recipients qualify based on a severe disability; 1.1 million children receive SSI for conditions such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual disability, and blindness.
Echoing a plan from House Republicans, the budget would cut $8 billion from SSI over ten years by reducing benefits for families in which more than one member qualifies for SSI — hurting some of the most vulnerable families, for example when children share a genetic disorder. Some 70 percent of poor families caring for more than one child with disabilities already struggle to meet basic needs, and these cuts would make their lives even harder.
Two-thirds of its nearly $50 billion in disability program savings comes from a vague proposal to “test new approaches to increase labor force participation.” The proposal assumes that after five years of experimenting, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will find large savings. SSA, however, has launched many demonstration projects over the years to test new ways to encourage beneficiaries to return to work, and they have consistently shown limited results or proved not cost-effective. Given disability beneficiaries’ severe impairments and high death rates, this proposal is very unlikely to fuel dramatic increases in work and, in turn, large savings for Social Security.
Enabling people with disabilities to work to their full potential would likely cost, not save, money. For example, it would mean more — not dramatically less — Medicaid spending for things like the long-term services and supports that many people with disabilities need to work. Slashing vital supports makes it harder for people with severe illnesses and injuries to get back on their feet.
- Medicaid cuts threaten health care for people with disabilities. Medicaid provides essential care for nearly 9 million people with disabilities, including core health care services, long-term services and supports, and other services that Medicare doesn’t cover and that help many low-income people with disabilities stay independent and healthy. The President’s budget would cut Medicaid and Affordable Care Act (ACA) funding by $1 trillion over ten years, with cuts growing deeper over time. These cuts would threaten access to Medicaid coverage for everyone — including people with disabilities — in part because the President’s budget calls for ending the enhanced federal funding for states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA. That would almost certainly lead states to end coverage for most of the more than 12 million people who have gained coverage through the expansion, including many people with disabilities who are enrolled in Medicaid but not eligible for federal disability benefits.
- Deep SNAP cuts would harm people with disabilities. The budget would cut more than $182 billion — nearly 30 percent — from SNAP (food stamps) over the next decade. The biggest cut would be from radically restructuring SNAP to eliminate about 40 percent of SNAP benefits and use some of these funds to give households a “Harvest Box” of non-perishable foods in lieu of foods they could choose for themselves at the grocery store. The budget would also end SNAP’s minimum monthly benefit for households with one or two people (currently $16), which mainly goes to low-income seniors and people with disabilities who qualify for a benefit of $15 or less and would affect 1 to 2 million people, most of whom would lose benefits altogether. More than one-fourth of SNAP participants have an impairment or disability, we’ve found, so these deep cuts would inevitably mean more hunger and hardship for people with disabilities.
- Housing assistance cuts would leave thousands of people with disabilities without vouchers that help them pay rent. The budget proposes deep cuts in rental assistance for families. Roughly 160,000 fewer households would receive housing vouchers, likely including 88,000 adults with disabilities (some of whom are seniors). Eliminating vouchers would increase homelessness and worsen hardship for people with disabilities.
- The budget eliminates or severely cuts other key programs supporting people with disabilities. It would cut and eliminate, respectively, Office of Disability Employment Policy funding and state grants for supported employment programs, which help people with disabilities to find jobs and employers to create inclusive workplaces. It would cut state Protection and Advocacy programs that provide legal services to people with disabilities. And it would halve funding for the Lifespan Respite Care Program for community-based assistance to family caregivers of people with disabilities.