Call for Action

From: Mike Freeman (
Date: Mon Nov 06 1995 - 23:11:00 PST

The following message comes from the Director of Governmental Affairs,
National Federation of the Blind (NFB):

November 3, 1995 FROM: James Gashel
       Director of Governmental Affairs Please give this notice the
broadest possible distribution.
     Many of you are undoubtedly aware of Senator John McCain's latest
effort to promote legislation which would increase the earnings exemption
threshold under Social Security. His bill, S. 1372, was briefly
considered on the Senate floor on Thursday, November 2. By a vote of 53
yeas to 42 nays (60 yeas required) the Senate failed to waive the Budget
Act, and S. 1372 was recommitted to the Finance Committee.
     The results of the recorded vote are being provided with this notice.
Senator McCain would obviously like to convince any Senator who voted
"nay" to switch positions in a future consideration of this bill or
another version of it. Several Senators, particularly among the
Republicans who voted against the waiver, are likely candidates to switch
in the future. All Senators should be urged to make the linkage
preservation a condition for their favorable vote in the future. Many
will have other conditions as well, but the linkage for blind persons
under present law should at least be one condition.
     In case there was any doubt about it, S. 1372 establishes Senator
McCain's clear intent to press forward on the Social Security earnings
limit issue during the remainder of this session and on into the future.
In fact, while the issue is temporarily "off the table," it may very well
come back on some other legislative vehicle. I would say that the Budget
Reconciliation Act is even a possibility. This could happen if a
bipartisan agreement is worked out on the budget and if President Clinton
gives his blessing to the overall package. The point is that almost
anything can happen.
     Meanwhile, we can do ourselves a great deal of good on this matter by
laying the proper groundwork. All Senators should be asked to insist upon
preserving the present law linkage between the exempt amounts for retirees
and blind persons if the Social Security earnings limit is changed. If
Senator McCain becomes convinced that preserving the blind persons'
linkage provision will attract votes, or lose votes if the linkage is
dropped, he is likely to become a staunch supporter on our side.
     In order to help you in addressing this issue with Senators over the
next few days and weeks, I am including a few other documents with this
notice. When asked about the cost, it is important to point out that the
Congressional Budget Office has scored an amendment which preserves the
linkage for blind people in a way that the cost is offset. This could be
done by phasing in the adjustments to the exempt amount for blind people
on a slightly different schedule than the adjustments for seniors. The
result--an earnings limit of $30,000, five or seven years out --would,
however, be the same for blind people and for seniors.
     REMEMBER: Our message to all Senators must be as follows: Insist
upon preserving the present law linkage between the exempt amounts for
retirees and blind persons if the Social Security earnings limit is
     For the reason that this issue could re-emerge quite quickly,
concerted action by all of us must be taken now! As demonstrated with S.
1372, an amendment on the Social Security earnings limit can quickly be
considered on the Senate floor with virtually no notice to anyone,
including the Senators themselves. Therefore, the level of awareness
about the linkage issue must become and remain particularly high.
     No legislation that is likely to be considered and passed could be
more vital to our interests. When the final bell has rung on this, the
outcome is almost certainly going to be either positive or negative for
us. It will not be neutral. Therefore, what we do over the next few days
and weeks will be critical 11/03/95
    ** 1995 CQ SENATE VOTE 562 ** S1372. Social Security Earnings
    Test - Budget Act Waiver. McCain, R-Ariz., motion to waive the
    budget act with respect to the Simpson, R-Wyo., point of order
    against the bill that raises the amount a person older than 65
    and younger than 70 can earn without having their Social
    Security benefits reduced. Currently, benefits are reduced by
    one dollar for each three dollars of earnings over $11,280. The
    bill would raise the $11,280 limit to $30,000 by the year 2002.
    Motion rejected 53-42: R 41-9; D 12-33 (ND 8-27, SD 4-6), Nov.
    2, 1995. A three-fifths majority vote (60) of the total Senate
    is required to waive the budget act. (Subsequently, the chair
    upheld the Simpson point of order and the bill was sent back to
    Finance Committee.)
    Item Key: 11166 *** YEAS(53)
****************************************************** DEMOCRATS (12)
Baucus M (MT) Graham B (FL) Kerry J (MA) Biden J (DE) Harkin T (IA)
Moseley-Braun C (IL) Bryan R (NV) Heflin H (AL) Reid H (NV) Ford W (KY)
Hollings E (SC) Simon P (IL) INDEPENDENTS (0) REPUBLICANS (41) Abraham S
(MI) Grams R (MN) Murkowski F (AK) Ashcroft J (MO) Grassley C (IA) Nickles
D (OK) Bennett R (UT) Gregg J (NH) Pressler L (SD) Brown H (CO) Hatch O
(UT) Roth W (DE) Burns C (MT) Helms J (NC) Santorum R (PA) Coats D (IN)
Hutchison K (TX) Shelby R (AL) Coverdell P (GA) Inhofe J (OK) Smith R (NH)
Craig L (ID) Jeffords J (VT) Snowe O (ME) D'Amato A (NY) Kempthorne D (ID)
Specter A (PA) DeWine M (OH) Kyl J (AZ) Stevens T (AK) Dole B (KS) Lott T
(MS) Thomas C (WY) Faircloth L (NC) Mack C (FL) Thompson F (TN) Frist B
(TN) McCain J (AZ) Warner J (VA) Gramm P (TX) McConnell M (KY) *** NAYS
(42) ****************************************************** DEMOCRATS (33)
Akaka D (HI) Feingold R (WI) Lieberman J (CT) Bingaman J (NM) Feinstein D
(CA) Mikulski B (MD) Boxer B (CA) Glenn J (OH) Moynihan D (NY) Breaux J
(LA) Inouye D (HI) Murray P (WA) Bumpers D (AR) Johnston J (LA) Nunn S
(GA) Byrd R (WV) Kennedy E (MA) Pell C (RI)
 Conrad K (ND) Kerrey B (NE) Pryor D (AR)
 Daschle T (SD) Kohl H (WI) Robb C (VA)
 Dodd C (CT) Lautenberg F (NJ) Rockefeller J (WV)
 Dorgan B (ND) Leahy P (VT) Sarbanes P (MD)
 Exon J (NE) Levin C (MI) Wellstone P (MN) INDEPENDENTS (0) REPUBLICANS
(9) Bond C (MO) Cochran T (MS) Gorton S (WA) Campbell B (CO) Cohen W (ME)
Kassebaum N (KS) Chafee J (RI) Domenici P (NM) Simpson A (WY) *** NOT
(3) Hatfield M (OR) ? Lugar R (IN) ? Thurmond S (SC) ?
The Senior Citizens' Equity Act
Questions and Answers on the Exempt Earnings Policy
                           for Blind People QUESTION: Why was the
conforming amendment breaking the present law
     linkage between the exempt amounts for blind persons and retirees
     included in the bill? ANSWER: The conforming amendment language was
originally placed in the
     bill during legislative drafting. At that point there was not a
     conscious policy decision made to exclude blind people from the
     earnings exemption changes. The reasons for doing so have been
     offered after the fact. QUESTION: What reasons have been given for
the exclusionary clause? ANSWER: There are two justifications
offered--(1) cost, and (2) even
     greater cost if other disabilities were then to be included.
QUESTION: How much would it cost to eliminate the exclusionary clause
     and thereby maintain the present law linkage between the earnings
     exemption for blind persons and retirees? ANSWER: Committee staff
who have favored the exclusion of blind people
     have said that striking the provision would cost $1.5 billion over
     five years. They also acknowledge that the earnings exemption
     adjustments for seniors would have a five-year cost of almost $7
     If the decision is to be made strictly on the basis of cost,
     changing the earnings limit for seniors is far more expensive
     than the comparable change would be for blind people.
     Therefore, the choice of the seniors over the blind is hard to
     The reason for raising the earnings limit is that it will give
     beneficiaries (both retirees and blind people alike) the
     opportunity to work. The vast majority of blind people of working
     age now receive benefits. When the earnings limit is raised they
     will not receive any more money. Those who go to work as a result
     will, however, pay taxes. The more they work, the more taxes they
     will pay. Now they are simply beneficiaries. Raising the earnings
     exemption will be cost-beneficial in the case of blind people.
QUESTION: How about persons with other disabilities? ANSWER: The Congress
answered this question almost twenty years ago.
     The situation for blind people and the earnings limit is the same
     as for retirees. The limit restricts work. It does not define
     either blindness or retirement age. Both blind people and seniors
     can qualify for cash benefits as long as they have worked long
     enough and then stop working enough to have earnings below the
     This is not the case for persons with other disabilities. A rule
     called "substantial gainful activity" (SGA) is used to determine
     disability. Application of the SGA rule involves evaluation of the
     ability to work. Earnings are only one of many factors and are not
     necessarily the controlling factor.
     Whereas a statutory earnings limit is the law for blind persons, it
     would be a major change in the law to do the same thing with regard
     to persons with other conditions. The problem is defining the wide
     diversity of disabling conditions with enough precision so as to
     reflect a true work disability. The SGA rule can be applied with
     the individualized degree of precision necessary to determine
     disability. The question of whether, or to what degree, the
     earnings limit should be raised is an entirely different matter.
     (1) Under an amendment authored by Mr. Archer blind people who have
not attained age sixty-five are affected by the same earnings limit that
the Social Security Act places on age sixty- five retirees. The identical
earnings exemption threshold has been the law for almost twenty years.
     (2) Blindness and retirement age are both defined eligibility
conditions in section 216 of the Social Security Act.
     (3) The disability test--the inability to engage in Substantial
Gainful Activity--is not used to determine whether an individual meets the
blindness criteria in the Social Security Act. Only medical evidence is
used for this determination.
     (4) The modifications to the earnings limit being proposed include a
series of mandated upward adjustments in the exempt amount to reach a
threshold of $30,000.00 of annual earnings.
     (5) A provision of the bill, called a "conforming amendment" would
specifically exclude blind people from the mandated adjustments.
     (6) The exclusion is a change from existing law. Blind people and
agencies which serve them strongly oppose this change.
     (7) The provision would create an earnings limit for blind people
which is far more severe than the earnings limit for age sixty-five
retirees-- a serious change in policy with far-reaching and harmful work
disincentive effects upon the blind.
     (8) Continuing the existing policy by mandating the adjustments in
the earnings limit for blind people as well as for age sixty-five retirees
will assure that an estimated 161,300 blind beneficiaries will receive a
powerful work incentive. Most blind people would then not lose
financially by working.
     (9) The mandated earnings limit changes, if made applicable to blind
people as now required, would be cost-beneficial since 70% of working age
blind people are unemployed or underemployed. Most of them are already
beneficiaries. Therefore, their positive response to the higher amounts
of earnings allowed will bring additional revenue into the Social Security
trust funds.
     (10) We support mandated adjustments in the exempt amount for
retirees and blind people. We are asking that the exclusionary provision,
applicable to the blind only, be removed from the bill. Since 1978 all of
the mandated and automatic adjustments in the earnings exemption for
retirees have also applied to blind people. There is absolutely no reason
for changing this policy now.

end of message


Mike Freeman            |       Internet:
GEnie: M.FREEMAN11      |       Amateur Radio Callsign: K7UIJ
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