Aug. 14 was the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Since it was enacted under Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, it has expanded in important ways. In 1939, benefits for dependent survivors of wage earners were added. In 1956, disability insurance benefits were added. Today, millions of Americans rely on these programs for income in the event of their own retirement, disability or death of a family wage-earner.

While Social Security is a part of our social fabric, that doesn’t mean that we can take its future for granted. As we celebrate its anniversary, we must ensure that Social Security remains strong for the next generation.

Social Security offers vital protection to nearly all American workers and their families, so that if they face a serious disability prior to reaching retirement age, they will receive a monthly benefit. The program is funded by payroll taxes — as you work, you buy premiums for this important insurance.

Since advocating for workers with disabilities, I have seen firsthand the vital role Social Security plays in people’s lives. One client was an electrical superintendent until he was fired from his job for not being able to perform his duties. He was in an automobile accident and injured his back, requiring surgery. The surgery and follow up treatment failed and he no longer can walk without a cane. He is in constant pain and requires a spinal cord stimulator as well as daily narcotic medication to help tolerate the pain. He has lost almost everything he had worked so hard to get and can no longer do any of the things he once enjoyed. After being denied initially, he appealed and was finally awarded benefits. Although his condition has not improved, with the help of his Social Security Disability Benefits, he is able to help provide for his family.

It is important to understand that many of the people who rely on this program — seniors and people with disabilities — are barely scraping by as the average benefit is around $1,130 per month. This doesn’t leave any room for cuts. And, the standard is extremely strict, requiring extensive medical documentation for serious impairments and conditions. In fact, more than 6 in 10 applicants are denied.

Disability insurance is an important part of Social Security and needs to be maintained. Congress can easily make the program more efficient by fully funding the program and rebalancing the trust funds again to ensure there is adequate funding for years to come. In the lead up to the 2016 election, we should all ask candidates where they stand on this critical program.

Social Security belongs to the American workers who paid into it. Any of us could find ourselves disabled. That’s why it is so critical that our politicians work together to keep Social Security strong for generations to come.

George Lato

attorney, Gulf South Disability Lawyers

Baton Rouge