WASHINGTON— Today, Reps Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Marcia Fudge (OH-11), and Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, John Larson (CT-01) introduced the Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act. In the midst of graduation season and a rising student debt crisis, the legislation will restore federal protections of Social Security benefits to prevent the federal government from garnishing them for the repayment of federal debt—such as student loans.
“Social Security is the one program that seniors in this country can absolutely count on during their retirement years,” said Rep. Grijalva. “Garnishing benefits to pay off old debts is not only a slap in the face to seniors, but can push many into dangerous poverty situations. As student loan debt reaches crisis levels, this problem will only worsen. We must restore the previous protections to ensure that the hard-earned benefits are there, and that seniors and those with disabilities are never reprimanded for getting an education.”
“Social Security is the insurance 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. Congress has traditionally protected these benefits from creditors, to ensure a basic level of retirement security. We must restore these historic protections,” said Rep. Larson.
“Social Security benefits often provide the only source of income for many of our nation’s retirees and persons living with disabilities,” said Rep. Fudge. “Garnishing benefits to pay off federal debt, like student loans, causes greater financial hardship to individuals already living on fixed incomes. Any reduction in benefits jeopardizes their ability to survive from day-to-day. The Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act restores a common-sense policy that protects against benefit garnishment, and ensures our seniors and individuals with disabilities can maintain a basic standard of living.”
In 2019, student loan debt topped $1.56 trillion spread out over 45 million borrowers. The number of retirees and people with disabilities who have had part of their Social Security benefits garnished to pay off student loans tripled between 2006 and 2013. A 2016 GAO Report found that in FY2015, the Department of Education collected $171 million on defaulted student loan debt through Social Security offsets and that older borrowers had a typical monthly garnishment that was more than $140. Almost half were subjected to the maximum possible reduction—equivalent to 15 percent of their Social Security benefit.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is introducing companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.