A Stumbling Block Before the Blind

As the nation debates cutting government spending and raising taxes to prevent going over the "fiscal cliff" at the end of the year, our leaders in Washington would be wise to keep in mind one of the pillars of the Jewish faith: ensuring that the most vulnerable members of society are looked after and protected.

Often times, protection simply means supporting equal opportunity for those who have been disadvantaged. This is obviously true for the disabled. "You shall not curse the deaf," we are commanded in the biblical book of Leviticus, "or place a stumbling block before the blind."

Our obligation to creating access and opportunity is why this week on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), is holding an interfaith event to highlight the important federal aid program we all know as disability insurance. Formally known as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), SSDI is a program that all working Americans pay into that offers them protection if they are ever seriously injured or too sick to work.

SSDI is not a bounty for recipients, the vast majority of whom are incapable of working. Rather, it is a modest lifeline that allows them to pay the most basic bills and keep a roof over their heads. Some SSDI recipients get off of the program once they recover. Others are forced to stay on SSDI for the remainder of their lives. And sadly, many are forced into homelessness while they wait for their benefits to come through because they apply only when they run out of funds.

The attacks over the last several months on the increased access to SSDI are disingenuous at best. SSDI is a program designed to, and effective at, meeting needs, not creating them. In fact, the reason more Americans are on SSDI today is because the population, particularly baby-boomers, are aging and therefore more vulnerable to injuries or illnesses. Additionally, there are more women in the workplace than ever before and they are aging as well, which brings its own unique set of health concerns. In fact, Steve Goss, the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration recently testified about these trends before the United States Congress.

The JCPA is holding this briefing in the United States Capitol building with the hope that Congress and the President will hear our call and protect critical programs like SSDI from cuts that would make it harder for Americans who already have it hard enough.

We understand that hard decisions must be made in Congress these next few weeks. Getting our nation back on sound financial footing is important for all Americans and we support the efforts to reach a deal despite some hardships it might impose. We are simply trying to remind Congress and the President that this is one program that deserves special attention. It cannot be okay to place stumbling blocks before the blind by cutting programs benefiting the most vulnerable members of society.