Changes to Social Security Eligibility Debated

It is an age-old debate: limiting government spending versus providing public benefits and services. In the context of Social Security and Medicare, the debate focuses on whether to increase the age when people can start receiving benefits. For many people, this might be a purely political issue, but it is necessary to look beyond party lines to understand the likely effects of potential changes to Social Security eligibility.

CBO Projections

The Congressional Budget Office is looking at the issue and potential consequences. Social Security and Medicare, the government's largest domestic programs, provide benefits mainly to the elderly. Expenses for both programs will increase rapidly as baby-boomers continue to retire, the CBO projects. Increasing the Medicare eligibility age - currently 65 - would save the government money while restricting access to benefits.

If the Social Security early retirement age increases, people with lower earnings would likely see a larger reduction in living standards than those with higher incomes, according to a CBO projection. Also, it could cause between 5 and 20 percent of people who claim Social Security benefits at ages 62 or 63 to become poor. Or it could merely induce people to work longer, according to the CBO. The likelihood of these predictions and whether the advantages of reducing federal spending are justified are up for debate.

Other programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, are relevant to discussions about expanding or restricting access to benefits. These components provide relief to disabled people who might face greater challenges with new Social Security eligibility requirements.

Other Considerations

Some advocates, like Janice Harris Jackson, member of the American Association of University Women, see a need for greater Social Security access for women. She believes that in states where government employees do not pay Social Security taxes, women are overburdened by the Government Pension Offset, which reduces or eliminates surviving spouse benefits.

"Discussions about cutting, privatizing, raising the retirement age or repealing the GPO in Social Security have profound ramifications for the economic stability of American women," Jackson wrote in New Jersey Newsroom.

Social Security programs exist for those with qualifying injuries, illnesses or disabilities. Those with conditions that might be eligible for Social Security benefits should contact a knowledgeable Social Security attorney who can advise about potential claims and help obtain available relief.