Congress must not sacrifice the Social Security Disability benefit.

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SOCIAL Security Disability Insurance is a lifeline that millions of people, including myself, have paid into in order to have financial security if we were to become disabled. I have been on disability due to a car accident that severely damaged my spine and knee.

I waited for two years to get on disability following the accident. I had to scrimp and save to hire an attorney to help me navigate the extensive and expensive administrative process individuals seeking disability must go through. A judge, after hearing medical evidence, accident reports and my own testimony, made the final determination that I qualify for disability. The idea that it is easy to get on disability is flat-out wrong.

After my daughter passed away of pulmonary hypertension in 2007, I began raising my three grandkids on my meager Disability Insurance check with a modest amount of help from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Together, these two amounts equal roughly $1,482 per month. Disability benefits are directly calculated from the taxes people have paid into Social Security while working, therefore SSDI is an earned benefit.

The Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund will exhaust its reserves in late 2016, and could lead to a roughly 20 percent reduction in benefits if Congress does not take corrective action. Unfortunately, on the first day of the session, the U.S. House passed a rule change that precludes an introduction of any bill that would shift revenues from Social Security’s retirement fund to Social Security Disability Insurance. Republicans in Congress have made their intentions to dismantle Social Security, the nation’s most successful and popular anti-poverty program, very clear.

I appreciate that U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., recently signed a letter to the U.S. Senate leadership denouncing the House’s rule change. When the Strengthening Social Security Act is reintroduced later this year, I encourage both Sens. Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to sign on and become champions for Social Security

I do not know what I would do if my benefits were cut by 20 percent due to a congressional rule change. I spend about $300 of my current monthly benefits on food and I already only take about half of the medications I am supposed to in order to reduce expenses. I have nothing else to cut back on. If I lost hundreds of dollars because Congress is out of touch with their constituents’ needs, then my family would suffer immensely.

Social Security Disability Insurance is a vital part of our overall retirement security system. Efforts like the new House rule to drive a wedge between Social Security Disability recipients and Social Security retirement recipients are just a mean-spirited tactic to destroy the entire Social Security system.

For far too long, Republicans in Congress have attempted to obfuscate their true desire to dismantle Social Security by manufacturing crises, such as the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund shortfall. The fact of the matter is that the projected Social Security Disability Insurance shortfall in 2016 can be fixed with small, modest changes.

If left depleted, the trust fund would only be able to pay for about 80 percent of benefits. To prevent this, Congress should temporarily reallocate the share of payroll taxes going to the fund. (Congress has passed reallocations 11 times in the past with bipartisan support.) To further strengthen Social Security, Congress also should scrap the cap on taxable income so that the wealthy pay their fair share into the system.

In a time of growing economic inequality, our country cannot afford to have the most successful anti-poverty program dismantled. I urge my fellow Washingtonians to hold their elected official accountable. We need our congressional leaders to be out in front of the fight to strengthen and expand Social Security, for retirees and for people with disabilities.