Earlier this month, President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015,
, a two-year budget agreement that increased the debt limit and eliminated 90 percent of the automatic budget cuts -- known as sequestration -- for non-defense discretionary domestic and defense programs in fiscal year 2016, and about 60 percent of the cuts in 2017. This agreement will greatly reduce the potential for government shutdowns over spending levels for the next two years.
The budget agreement also extended the solvency of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) fund through 2022, thereby avoiding across-the-board cuts of nearly 20 percent in disability benefits starting in late 2016. Sens. Richard Durbin and Mark Kirk both voted in favor of the bill. On the House side, Illinois Reps. Mike Bost, Cheri Bustos, Danny Davis, Rodney Davis, Robert Dold, Tammy Duckworth, Bill Foster, Luis Gutierrez, Robin Kelly, Adam Kinzinger, Daniel Lipinski, Mike Quigley, Bobby Rush and Jan Schakowsky voted in favor of the bill.
"This is great news for people with disabilities," said David Golder, chair of JUF's Government Affairs Committee. "JUF is grateful that thousands of people in the Chicago metropolitan area and the state of Illinois will continue to receive the benefits they need."
Protecting funding for SSDI has been a high priority for JUF and was one of the domestic policy issues that Chicago leaders advocated for with members of the Illinois delegation during a
2015 Mission to Washington D.C.
The extension is in part a result of a short-term reallocation of funds from the main Social Security trust fund to SSDI. The fix also includes enhanced program integrity measures designed to ferret out waste, fraud and abuse in the system. The agreement provides for new demonstration projects to test the viability of approaches to reduce the cost of the program and to help recipients find employment. In addition, the "single decision maker" pilot program underway in 20 states (Illinois does not participate) has been eliminated. The program tested the impact of allowing disability examiners to make disability determinations without a medical consultant's signature.
"SSDI is a critical safety net for the most vulnerable individuals in our community, many of whom have no other sustainable sources of income," said Lisa Shuger Hublitz, director of JUF's Washington D.C. Office. "Ensuring that this program continues is a big win, and we appreciate the support from members of the Illinois delegation."
SSDI is only available to those who have paid in to the fund and who have the most severe, long-term impairments, which prevent them from earning even a poverty-level wage at any job in the national economy because of their disabilities. Four percent of all Illinois residents aged 18-64 received SSDI benefits in 2013. In Illinois, 291,729 disabled workers, and nearly 5,000 spouses and 60,500 children of disabled workers received vital benefits from SSDI in 2013.