U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced legislation today to protect seniors who are struggling to pay off outstanding federal debts, such as student loans.
The legislation would repeal a decades-old law that allows the federal government to garnish someone’s Social Security benefits to pay off an outstanding federal debt, such as student loans or home loans owed to the Veterans Administration.
“Social Security is not just a program, it’s a promise we made to help care for older Americans who worked hard and paid into the program,” Nelson said. “This bill will help us keep that promise for those who need it most.”
According to a Government Accountability Office report released in December, 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 173,000 in 2015. That includes some people under the age of 65 who receive Social Security Disability Insurance.
Social Security was established to provide a fundamental lifeline for millions of Americans who worked and paid into the system. To support the purpose of the program, the original law protected these earned benefits from attempts to recover debts. However, in 1996, Congress revised the original law to allow certain benefits to be garnished if the beneficiary had an outstanding federal debt. The legislation Nelson and others filed today would reestablish the original protections to Social Security and other benefit programs, such as Railroad Retirement and Black Lung Benefits.
In addition to Nelson, the bill is sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
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.
Text of the bill is available here.