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Reps. Larson, Grijalva and Sen. Wyden Reintroduce the Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act

November 4, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, Reps. John B. Larson (CT-01), Chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, and Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03) reintroduced the Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act, legislation to restore federal protections of Social Security benefits to prevent the federal government from garnishing them for the repayment of all non-tax federal debt—such as student loans. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“Social Security is an earned benefit Americans have paid for, and for most seniors provides their main source of income in retirement. Garnishing these already-modest benefits to recover long-ago student loan debt takes their retirement out from under them. I’m proud to introduce this bill today with Rep. Grijalva and Senator Wyden to ensure this doesn’t happen to any American,” said Rep. Larson.

“Americans pay into Social Security with every paycheck, with the expectation that this earned benefit will provide a secure retirement,” Sen. Wyden said. “It’s wrong that this promise is falling short for too many in challenging economic times. Too often, seniors are walking an economic tightrope –  restoring these important protections is more important now than ever.” 

“Seniors paid their entire lives into Social Security and many live on modest, fixed incomes. They are being punished largely due to the skyrocketing cost of higher education – sometimes even paying their children’s debt out of their meager benefits.” said Rep. Grijalva.  “For many, Social Security benefits are the only source of income they can depend on.  Prior to 1996 we did not allow the Social Security benefit sanctity to be broken, and it’s time we restore that certainty for seniors.  As the student loan debt crisis hits record levels, it’s critical that we act now to protect these benefits.

Garnishment of Social Security benefits is still happening at an alarming rate, despite the adoption of a new rule by the U.S. Department of Education to discharge student loan debt for borrowers with a total and permanent disability. According to a September 2016 GAO report, the number of retirees and people with disabilities whose Social Security benefits were seized by the government to pay off student loans increased more than fivefold between 2002 and 2016. While the Department of Education put a pause on collecting student loans due to the pandemic, the Department is prepared to resume payments at the end of January including those for seniors. In addition to protecting Social Security benefits, the bill also protects railroad retirement and black lung benefits. 

The Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act is endorsed by Social Security Works, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), AFL-CIO, Justice in Aging, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Organization of Social Security Claimant Representatives (NOSSCR), the National Association of Disability Representatives (NADR), The Strengthen Social Security Coalition and Alliance for Retired Americans.

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