What a Trump Presidency Could Mean for Disabled Americans
The financial theory of “trickle-down” doesn’t hold much water, but there has certainly been some trickling going on since November’s presidential election. The president-elect’s behavior is described differently depending on who you ask — either he shoots from the hip or he speaks without forethought.
Whatever you think, it’s definitely emboldened those who speak from a place of privilege to feel like they can express themselves openly. There seems to be a cultural shift happening — if the new president can say and do it, then so can anyone else. Some believe this is why there has been an outbreak of recent hate crimes — a 6% leap since last year when the election started full swing, with a sharp uptick after the election results.
Trump’s unapologetic attitude will surely have repercussions for those of us who weren’t raised in mansions with yachts. It’s already had consequences for those who don’t fit the traditional mold — or at least the mold of when Trump suggests America was great. Those who are from different places, are disabled or simply don’t fit in are already finding life under a future President Trump more challenging.
In fact, the most recent statistics regarding bullying and the disabled reveal that kids with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than those who don’t. It’s a heartbreaking statistic, but it makes sense — bullies always pick on the kids who have a harder time fighting back. It’s bad enough such behavior happens in schools — but that’s among children. Surely adults in the political arena act with more dignity and kindness?
We’ll have to wait and see. With Social Security benefits becoming a hot political topic, many with disabilities are worried about a bully with a big Twitter following running the show, but he may not be the most serious threat.
Safeguarding the Future
Trump got some ugly press back in November of 2015 when he seemed to mock a disabled reporter — something even little children understand is reprehensible. He and his campaign have repeatedly denied that he was making fun of the Washington Post writer. Whether he behaved out of cruelty or simple insensitivity, we can’t know for certain, but PolitiFact suggests there’s no other way to interpret that moment as anything but mocking.
In the aftermath, however, Trump forcefully denied the claim that he would ever do such a thing. He said he would never mock people with disabilities. What he may be beginning to understand is that this issue is more than respect and kindness — it’s about politics. It seems fairly obvious he was acting derisively toward the reporter.
Let’s just hope the public outrage taught him something, and that he’s willing to protect those he hurt.
Social Security Under Trump
The changing of the political guard is always an uncertain time. For those who have appreciated and relied on the policies of the last eight years under Obama, it may be even more nerve-wracking than usual. One question that’s been getting a lot of attention is Social Security. Early in his campaign, Trump promised to privatize it, but he’s backtracked himself right into another kind of wall — a wall of voters afraid of losing money they’ve been promised their whole lives.
But Trump may not be the person those with disabilities — many of whom rely on Social Security — need to worry about. From the outside, it looked like Trump’s idea about privatizing Social Security was whispered into his ear by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has wanted Social Security on the chopping block at least since 2004. He offered a plan that then-president George W. Bush said was “irresponsible.” He couldn’t have been happy when he saw Trump backpedaling.
Paul Ryan’s Influence in the White House
As a Republican Speaker of the House during a democratic presidency, Ryan hasn’t had the power to make the cuts to Social Security that he wanted, but he’s definitely tried. In 2007, as the ranking House Budget Committee member and later the Chairman, he drafted yearly budgets that included huge cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Even though Trump is ambiguous about it now, he did insinuate at various times that he was open to cuts in these programs.
Pre-election Trump, on the other hand, was totally in favor of cutting Social Security, going so far as calling it a Ponzi scheme, but that was before he was running for an elected office and definitely before he realized that suggesting such cuts might be political suicide. Considering the tightness of the race he won, he was smart to tread lightly regarding this issue later on.
We can’t really know what Trump will do now that he’s nearly the president, but we do know that Ryan will try hard to be an influence, despite earlier disagreements between himself and Trump.
Predicting the Next Phase of Social Security
Nothing radical will change in the immediate future — Trump’s ambiguity is clear in how he has recoiled from earlier promises, explaining instead that the American people need to be secure. Most recently, Trump is holding to the obligations of supporting Social Security beneficiaries. What is certain is that there are roughly 60 million Americans relying on Social Security benefits.
Those numbers, however, may be low considering the many who need Social Security and are denied for various reasons — from typos to wrongly formatted paperwork.
Though privatizing is controversial to say the least, the future of Social Security is in the air regardless because its solvency is at issue. The Social Security Act became a law in 1935, when the aging population was much smaller. They made up less than 1% of the total population by the 1940 Census. Compare that to today’s 18%, and it’s easy to see this issue is complicated.
The plan deducted payroll taxes to help that 1%, and it still does that now that the numbers have drastically changed. With baby boomers hitting retirement — at a rate of about 10,000 people a day — making up for expenses that are 18 times higher than the expectation means more cash is going out than coming in. By 2034, the fund that promised care for people will only be paying about 79 cents on the dollar of what was promised — a scary prospect for many.
How Do We Ensure the Solvency of the Trust?
For those nearing retirement, this can be disconcerting — but for those who rely on Social Security because of a disability, it can be downright frightening. There are a few popular options for solving the problem, without making huge cuts to the program functioning as it is.
Option 1: Raise the Social Security Payroll Tax
Right now, the government takes up to $118,000 of a person’s annual earned income toward his or her retirement fund. If that amount was increased to $150,000, it might go toward making Social Security more solvent. It would also mean more taxes from people who are concerned that they’re paying into something that won’t pay them out when they hit retirement — a fair concern, given the numbers.
Option 2: Raise the Retirement Age
Trump suggests that the problem with Social Security is that we’re living longer. And while facts aren’t always a politician’s strong point, in this instance it’s true. The medical advances from 1935 to today have transformed our golden years, making life much easier. Retirement has become a time many wait for to fully enjoy their lives. It wasn’t that long ago that people retired only when they were too old to work.
Because of this, many have suggested that raising the retirement age from 66 for those born after 1955 would be less of a financial burden, especially considering that 75% of people in the U.S. over 65 still work.
Currently, when you hit the retirement age but are still working, you can receive your retirement benefits, despite what you earn. Since middle-aged Americans put up the money for those getting benefits today, it would ensure the fund would last well beyond 2034.
Option 3: Raise More Money
Raising more money is a good option, but it’s easier said than done. Like a kid selling lemonade to start a college fund, it makes a complicated issue too simple. It relies on a huge increase in employment. With more money coming from more people who are working in more jobs, Social Security taxes would be a non-issue.
The improvement of the economy the past few years has given many hope, and it’s a good place to start, but others don’t see such a happy future. Quite a few smart money people are concerned that 2017 is looking like another financial crash — which will inevitably hurt the job market.
What Is Certain About Social Security Benefits
What we do know is that the solvency issue isn’t going to take care of itself. And Paul Ryan’s idea may look good to some, but certainly not to those who are relying on Social Security benefits for daily needs, like many with disabilities. It’s a gamble that most aren’t willing to take.
Though many see his tactics as short-sighted and even uncaring, Ryan truly believes Social Security would benefit from being a part of the competitive market. For democrats, it sounds like capitalism unchecked. And though Ryan has worked, compromised and negotiated to get the republicans who do support him onboard, there are plenty who aren’t.
Consider the ad that showed Ryan pushing someone in a wheelchair off a cliff. It’s powerful and speaks to some fear in our collective minds. His strategy isn’t one people trust, nor do they trust his judgment regarding those with disabilities and the elderly. But now, other GOP members are looking to make serious changes. These changes include:
- Raising retirement age to 68 or 69
- Lower cost of living index, meaning less money
- Reduction of benefits to wealthier retirees
- Eliminate the COLA (cost of living adjustment) for the wealthy
Democrats are already seeing red regarding these proposed changes, but the plan does extend some branches to them that may make it more enticing, especially if they see this as an opening offer and not a blanket decision.
However, as George W. Bush learned, messing with — or talking about messing with — America’s security trust fund is risky. And it will likely not have the support of one of America’s biggest lobbies, the AARP — American Association of Retired Persons — which has serious reach.
Has Trump Learned From His Experience?
Trump is not in office yet, but those who he’s criticized and been cruel to throughout his campaign are already afraid. Those who didn’t vote for him may feel like they’re in for a long four years, but what if he’s capable of change? His reaction to the disabled reporter was cruel, but it’s less cruel than the guy crusading for the cessation of money to disabled Americans across the country who rely on those funds.
It seems unlikely that any modifications would happen that might in any way jeopardize current and future Social Security benefits. The legislative system is full of elected officials hoping to keep their seats, so it’s unlikely they’ll be ready to make the cuts Ryan is suggesting. What we must hope for is that those on both sides of the aisle can stand up to the legislative bully — and that Trump is strong enough to do the same.