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September 14th, 2023
Reps. Grijalva, Larson and Sen. Wyden Reintroduce Bill to Protect Social Security Benefits from Garnishment

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07) and John B. Larson (CT-01), Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, and six original cosponsors reintroduced the Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act. The legislation restores 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. In addition to protecting Social Security benefits, the bill also protects railroad retirement and black lung benefits. 

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“Seniors paid their entire lives into Social Security and are being punished largely due to the skyrocketing cost of higher education. For many, Social Security benefits are the only source of income they can depend on and it’s time we restore that certainty for seniors,” said Rep. Grijalva. “With student loan debt payments resuming in October, it’s critical that we act now to protect the benefits Seniors need to retire and live their lives with dignity.”

“Social Security is an earned benefit Americans have paid into their entire working lives, and garnishing these already-modest benefits to recover student loan debt hurts their ability to retire with dignity. As we work to protect and expand Social Security and address student debt in our country, I’m proud to join Rep. Grijalva and Senator Wyden in introducing this legislation today to protect benefits,” said Rep. Larson.

“It is plain wrong to take away the Social Security benefits seniors earned through a lifeline of work because of the increasing burden of student loan debt,” said Sen. Wyden. “It’s past time Congress protects seniors and the Social Security benefits they have earned with every paycheck. That’s why I’m proud to reintroduce legislation that shores up protections for Social Security benefits and allows seniors to retire with the dignity they deserve.”

Despite the welcome adoption of a new rule by the Biden administration through the U.S. Department of Education to discharge student loan debt for borrowers with a total and permanent disability, more can be done to fully protect Social Security beneficiaries.  

According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office report, at least 114,000 Americans have had their Social Security garnished because they were unable to make their student loan repayments, The same report found 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 five-fold between 2002 and 2016, driving many into poverty.  

The number of people age 60 and older who still have student loan debt has increased six-fold since 2004 to 3.5 million and the amount they owe is now 19-fold, amounting to more than $125 billion in student loans. More than 60% of older borrowers with outstanding student loan debt say they do not have enough savings to cover their expenses for three months in an emergency, and according to a survey by AARP nine percent say their student loan debt has forced them to forgo medical care.

President Biden’s loan forgiveness plan was set to erase 20 million Americans’ student loan debt and reduce it for another 20 million. Instead, following the Supreme Court decision to strike down President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, interest on loan payments will begin again for all loan holders and monthly payments will resume in October 2023.

The six original cosponsors include Reps. Jonathon Jackson (IL-01), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Linda Sanchez (CA-38), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12) and David Trone (MD-06).

The Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act is endorsed by the Alliance for Retired Americans, Strengthen Social Security Coalition, 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) and the National Association of Disability Representatives (NADR).

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