Risks of proposed Social Security Disability Insurance cuts

The SSDI program provides supplemental income to people with disabilities. While many people assume that Social Security disability is something that could never affect themselves or their families, according to the Council for Disability Awareness, more than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before they retire, and over 37 million Americans are currently classified as disabled – that’s 12 percent of the population.  Currently, almost eight million disabled wage earners are receiving Social Security disability benefits.

Disability insurance has been described as more crucial than life insurance precisely because the likelihood of someone becoming disabled and unable to earn an income during their lifetime is greater than the likelihood of dying.  It is especially important for younger workers who have dependents and for families that rely on one salary versus two. According to the American Council of Life Insurers, one-third of people in the United States between the ages of 35 and 65 will become disabled for more than 90 days, and one in seven will be unable to work for more than five years. Most of these cases involve individuals who suffer from an illness such as heart disease or back pain.


History of Social Security Disability Insurance

In 1956, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) protection was added to Social Security for those who found

SSDI Application process

themselves unable to support themselves or their families due to a life-changing illness or accident. In 1965, Medicare was added for seniors, and, several years later, for individuals with disabilities.

While the SSDI program has helped many, many argue that additional expansions are necessary in order to properly provide economic security for those with disabilities and address the severe backlog of those who need and have already applied for SSDI benefits. Social Security claimants, for example, are now waiting an average of 19 months to simply receive a hearing, and about one in 10 are waiting 120 to 180 days or more to receive their decisions after their hearings.

Today, the average SSDI monthly check reportedly totals $1,032 with beneficiaries allowed to earn an additional $1,170 each month by working. More than six million of those covered are over the age of 50 and if they remain on SSDI until age 66, they are moved to receiving ‘regular’ Social Security benefits.


Proposed Changes to Social Security Disability Insurance

President Trump’s budget proposal included proposed changes to the Social Security Disability Insurance program; changes that are similar to those recommended several years ago in the McCrery-Pomeroy report which would amount to cutting $113 million to the program in 2018 alone. These savings would reach $1.4 billion by 2027 and reportedly cut SSDI funding by $72 billion over the next 10 years.

The budget initiative—titled “SSDI Solutions: Ideas to Strengthen the Social Security Disability Insurance Program”—proposes to establish an “expert” panel to recommend changes to several disability programs in order to “boost disabled Americans’ participation in the labor force.” Unfortunately, not only does this sound as though it proposes to kick many people off of SSDI under the mistaken presumption that those in the program simply do not want to work, but it includes initiatives that have already failed in the past.

Some of the drastic cost-savings measures under the proposed budget would:

  • Reduce the 12-month retroactive disability benefit to six months;
  • Prohibit people from receiving SSDI benefits while also receiving unemployment insurance benefits;
  • Limit the amount of time people can receive benefits under the program if they have conditions that are likely to improve;
  • Mandate that certain applicants be required to engage in job-seeking activities before their applications would be considered; and
  • Mandate that people with arthritis or lower back pain first try physical or occupational therapy.

Research Indicates the Opposite

According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, many beneficiaries in the program chose not to participate in their state vocational rehabilitation program because they fear that they could lose their disability benefits and Medicare coverage if they do. That same study also found that one of the employment services program (called “Ticket to Work”) resulted in minimal increases in employment and few disability benefit reductions. A very small percentage (one percent) of beneficiaries is removed from the disability rolls each year because their health has improved. The overall participation in the labor force for people with disabilities is 20.6 percent. These statistics are important to take into account when providing for SSDI programs because they indicate that participating in the program is not simply about an unwillingness to work.

As demonstrated by the GAO report, it simply isn’t easy for applicants to find jobs. There is arguably a significant stigma against hiring people with disabilities, perhaps in part due to employers misunderstanding just what the Americans with Disabilities Act does and does not require. In addition, research has shown that employers end up recommending that workers apply for disability benefits when they experience health problems instead of accommodating those employees.


Apply ASAP to Avoid Delays

Given the backlog of applications, current wait times, and proposed legislative threats to the SSDI program, it is crucial that applicants who plan to apply for SSDI benefits do so with representation. To qualify, you must have paid FICA payroll taxes and worked five of the last 10 years, as well as have a severe work-disabling injury or illness that will last at least 12 months (or one that is terminal).


Social Security Disability Lawyers Who Care

If you are applying for SSDI benefits, or already have applied and been denied or are concerned about your SSDI benefits being reduced or dissolved, our SSDI lawyers in New Orleans can help. We’ve worked without countless individuals in helping them understand their eligibility, helping them making their case to receive benefits under the SSDI program and working to successfully submit their applications for benefits. We’ve also helped many can navigate the appeals process and secure benefits they need. Contact us today to set up a consultation and find out more.

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