Protecting Social Security benefits


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-O), Ranking Member of the Finance Committee’s Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy Subcommittee joined his colleagues this week to introduce the Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act, to protect Americans who receive Social Security from having their benefits garnished to pay outstanding federal debts, such as 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 higher education and provide Americans with relief from the crushing levels of student debt.”

The bill, which Brown introduced with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), 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. Brown and Wyden introduced this bill last congress, and will continue fighting for its passage.

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 168,000 in 2018 – nearly a fivefold increase. That includes certain people under 65 who receive Social Security Disability Insurance. In 2018 alone, $197 million in Social Security benefits were garnished from workers, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Fiscal Service.

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.

The bill was cosponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

The bill is supported by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), National Association of Disability Representatives, AFL-CIO, National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR), Social Security Works, The National Organization for Women (NOW), Justice in Aging, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Paralyzed Veterans of America, Alliance for Retired Americans, Economic Policy Institute and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM).