July 21, 2015

By Jacob Bradshaw

Update: Advocates took action and won: the harmful SSDI provision was removed from the transportation bill.

Many individuals with mental illness depend on social security benefits for partial financial support. Congress is considering cuts to Social Security and other state financial benefits programs as a means of funding a transportation bill. The proposed cuts are embodied in the CUFF Act and similar legislation, and legislation that would cut benefits to people receiving both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Unemployment Insurance (UI).

Current law disqualifies fugitive felons and parole violators from receiving Social Security benefits. However, recent legislation such as the CUFF Act intends to dramatically broaden the scope of the social security disqualification criteria.

The CUFF Act, if passed, would extend to any individual with an outstanding arrest warrant for a felony. This would mean that individuals not yet convicted of any crime would be denied important benefits. It would also penalize individuals with decades old arrest warrants that law enforcement have consistently failed to pursue.

Such a change would endanger the wellbeing of over 100,000 individuals who depend upon Social Security benefits. A considerable number of those affected live with mental illnesses.

The CUFF Act is harmful to low-income individuals living with mental illness, does not provide law enforcement with any information they cannot already access through arrest warrant records and is an unnecessary addition to the law. Many could be left homeless if their social security benefits are removed. Historical precedent shows that the CUFF Act does far more harm than good, and similar policies in the past were abolished for that reason.

Reducing benefits for individuals who receive SSDI and UI similarly harms people in genuine financial need. People who qualify for both benefit programs do so because they have earned those benefits through past work, and because they are unable to provide for themselves without monetary assistance. Because many people who receive SSDI have a mental health based disability, such benefit cuts would negatively impact those in the community who live with mental illness.

Proposed legislation (Senate Bill 499 and Senate Bill 343) would cut off SSDI payments for any month in which an individual is eligible for any UI payments, regardless of whether or not they receive UI. The SSDI and Unemployment Benefits Double Dip Elimination Act of 2015 (S. 499) would further count eligibility for UI as a “Trial Work Period.” This could potentially cancel or suspend their SSDI benefits.

NAMI is joining coalition colleagues in the disability community to oppose this effort to fund the highway bill with cuts to SSDI. We encourage you and others to join us in this effort and contact your Senator and/or House Representative and ask them to oppose this legislation, too.

Funding our roads is important, but not at the cost of leaving tens of thousands of Americans without the financial assistance they need to survive.

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