WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced a bill to protect Americans who receive Social Security from having their benefits garnished to pay outstanding federal debts like student loans.
“Americans work hard to earn their Social Security and we cannot allow it to be stolen away by student debt,” Brown said. “Instead of going after seniors and the disabled, the government should be working to address the skyrocketing cost of student debt.”
The bill, which Brown introduced with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act, would repeal a decades-old change in law that allowed earned benefits to be garnished by the federal government to collect federal debts, like student loans, home loans owed to the Veterans Administration and food stamp overpayments.
The number of Americans who have had their benefits garnished by the federal government has dramatically increased in recent years – from 36,000 in 2002 to a staggering 173,000 in 2015 – nearly a fivefold increase. That includes certain people under 65 who receive Social Security Disability Insurance.
Social Security provides vital benefits to millions of Americans who worked and paid into the system. To support the purpose of the program as a fundamental lifeline, the original law protected these earned benefits from attempts to recover all debts. These changes, made in 1996, were never fully debated in Congress, yet they continue to have a profound effect on beneficiaries living on fixed incomes today. Although the 1996 legislation included some provisions to protect the most vulnerable, those protections have not been updated in 20 years. The legislation reestablishes protections in Social Security and other benefit programs, such as Railroad Retirement and Black Lung Benefits, which were in place for more than 40 years before the change was made.
U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) are also cosponsoring the bill.
The bill is supported by Social Security Works, The Arc of the United States, Latinos for a Secure Retirement, Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA), AFL-CIO, The Economic Opportunity Institute, The National Organization for Women, Justice in Aging, Gray Panthers NYC, Alliance for Retired Americans, The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Global Policy Solutions, AARP, The American Federation of Government Employees, and the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW.