“I would have nothing.”  low-income seniors fear a debt default that cuts off Social Security

The threat to Social Security payments stemming from the debt ceiling impasse has Linda Stanbury, 76, thinking about her worst fear: losing the home she’s lived in for 48 years.

Stanberry, who depends entirely on the roughly $1,800 she receives each month in federal benefits, says she barely has anything saved after expenses such as food, utilities, prescription drugs and supplemental cancer insurance.

The federal government may not pay some of its bills as soon as June 1, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned this week. If that shortfall cuts off Social Security, Stanberry will need cash urgently, he said.

“I would have nothing,” Stanbury, who lives in Southwest Virginia, told ABC News. “There’s no way I can keep my house.”

Stanberry is one of millions of low-income older Americans who rely almost entirely on Social Security. Overall, about 1 in 7 Americans age 65 and older depend on federal benefits for 90% or more of their income, Social Security Administration data show.

If the U.S. doesn’t make Social Security payments next month, or even delays payments for a few days, low-income seniors will face dire circumstances without basic necessities like food and medical care, experts and advocates told ABC News.

“For older adults living paycheck to paycheck, this debt ceiling process has been absolutely terrifying,” Ramsey Alvin, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging, told ABC News. “Losing that check means they won’t be able to put food on the table.”

Missing Social Security payments will hit some older Americans next week.

On June 1, the federal government plans to increase payments to those enrolled in the Supplemental Social Security Program for low-income disabled seniors. The next day, a batch of Social Security payments totaling $25 billion is scheduled to go to general recipients, targeting the most vulnerable, such as elderly enrollees.

Additional payments are planned for June 14, June 21 and June 28, each amounting to about $25 billion.

“This could be absolutely catastrophic,” Peter Kempner, legal director of New York-based Peter Kempner Legal Services Volunteers, which works closely with seniors in poverty, told ABC News.

Older people with very low incomes lack savings, making them particularly vulnerable to financial shocks, he added.

“They live from government paycheck to government paycheck,” Kempner said. “They don’t have the reserves to float for several months if benefits are suspended because of what’s happening in Washington.”

With the debt default looming, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Friday that he was confident negotiators would reach an agreement soon.

McCarthy said negotiators “made progress” overnight, declining to offer specifics on a potential agreement.

McCarthy has committed to giving the House of Representatives 72 hours to review the bill before bringing it up for a vote, leaving little time to ratify the deal before a potential cash crunch on June 1.

Delays in Social Security payments for even a few days can put low-income seniors in dire straits as they prioritize small expenses between rent, food and transportation to medical appointments, experts and advocates told ABC News.

“Every day that goes by makes a difference,” Cindy Cox-Roman, president and CEO of the advocacy group HelpAge USA, told ABC News.

She said Charles Turner, 74, relies solely on the $1,000 in Social Security he receives each month.

Because she suffers from a disability that limits her mobility and use of public transportation, Turner depends on shuttle services that cost $25 each way to get to weekly doctor appointments and Tai Chi classes at the senior center, she said.

“It would be difficult to even buy food and go to physical therapy appointments,” said Turner, who lives in Washington, D.C.

He added that policymakers involved in debt ceiling negotiations are ignoring these direct consequences for seniors.

“They don’t see us,” Turner said. “We are simply lost.”

ABC News’ Kathryn Folders, Gabe Ferris, Alison Pecorin and Alexandra Hutzler contributed reporting.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *