Nancy Altman, President, Social Security Works
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Co-Chair, Congressional Progressive Caucus
As Thanksgiving rolls around this year marking the beginning of the holiday season, we are able to pause and reflect on all that we have to be grateful for. But for far too many of us, this time of the year is no different than any other, with many Americans facing daily struggles and financial hardships. This certainly includes older Americans, too many of whom, despite Social Security, either live in poverty or live one financial shock away from poverty.
Since its establishment under President Roosevelt, the Social Security program has stood for the principle that after a lifetime of work and contributions, older Americans should be able to retire with a secure, guaranteed source of income. More than 80 years later, it remains a vital source of income for over sixty million Americans, allowing them some measure of dignity and independence when work is gone. In Arizona, around 1.25 million beneficiaries receive an average of $15,000 annually in Social Security benefits.
And until 1996, income from Social Security was one of the few sources that people with debt could count on because the benefits were off limits to creditors. Unlike your paycheck, which is subject to garnishment if you are late on a payment, your Social Security benefits were protected from debt collection. But in that year, Congress enacted the Debt Collection Improvement Act. That bill gave our government the power to seize a portion of Social Security benefits for the repayment of student loans, Veterans Administration home loans, food stamp overpayments and the like. It is ironic, at best, that Congress has exempted itself from a rule that limits private creditors. The government garnishing the very income that provides such modest support and lifts so many people out of poverty is plain wrong.