James Lockhart is a 67-year-old man with diabetes and heart disease currently living in public housing in Seattle. According to the brief before the Supreme Court, between 1984 and 1990 he borrowed $80,000 in federal student loans to attend various college programs. He never graduated nor found employment except for a few months in 1987. In April 2002, the Department of the Treasury officially informed him that his Social Security disability payments, then $874 a month plus $10 in food stamps, would be cut—“offset”--by 15 percent to pay his old student loans. Lockhart found legal help from the nonprofit group Public Citizen, founded by Ralph Nader.
If these trends persist, and if Lockhart loses his case, the Bush administration won’t have to bother with its plans for reforming Social Security. Benefits will be slashed anyway in 20 years to pay off everyone’s old student debt.
UPDATE: According to the Seattle P-I, "Skeptical Supreme Court justices on Wednesday sharply questioned a Seattle man's claim that the government was wrong to tap his Social Security benefits to pay off long overdue students loans.
The justices appeared unmoved by arguments that James Lockhart, who is disabled, needed all of his $874 monthly check to pay for food and medication."