A Plan Is Needed to Prevent Cuts in Social Security Disability Benefits

You may have seen recent news reports about potential cuts itoSocial Security Disability benefits. According to Social Security trustees, the disability trust fund will be depleted towards the end of 2016 unless changes are made. Depletion would cause benefits to be cut by 19%. Our elected officials will be grappling with this issue in the coming months, but the fact remainsf that these benefits are very important and this issue should be considered when making voting decisions or communicating with your representatives. Here are five things you should consider:

  • You have been paying for Social Security Disability Insurance. Often, people don ’t realize that what is commonly referred to as "Disability" is actually an insurance program. When you work, you earn credits to insure yourself against disability. Once you have earned enough credits, you insure yourself against disability up to a certain point in the future. If you become unable to work, the amount of your disability benefit depends on your income and the amount of taxes you paid. When you consider this, a reduction in your current or potential disability benefits due to circumstances totally beyond your control can certainly be disturbing.
  • Eligibility restrictions could disproportionately hurt older individuals. Social Security applies a very strict disability standard. However, the Social Security Administration has recognized that, as people age, it can be more difficult to learn new skills. Also, employers are less willing to train older individuals. When an older individual ’s impairments prevent him or her from performing past work and using skills developed in the workplace, rules based on the difficulties older individuals face in the job market can help them obtain disability benefits. Any eligibility restrictions aimed at undermining these rules could really hurt those who have worked the longest and paid the most taxes.
  • Eligibility restrictions could negatively affect the economy as a whole. I could list many, many, examples of this. Most importantly, the funds that are paid out as disability benefits are spent to pay mortgages, with local service providers, and in stores that provide people with jobs, providing benefit to the economy as a whole. Many times, a disabled person is fortunate enough to have friends or family who help out with expenses while a claim is pending. When this person receives benefits, it very much eases the financial burden on the family; if these benefits were unavailable, the family might have to choose between supporting a disabled loved one or sending their children to college. It can be very dangerous if a disabled person is forced to attempt work that he should not be doing because of his impairments. Do you want someone on potent pain medication or anti-anxiety pills driving your child ’s school bus? Finally, while disability benefits are intended to help honest, hard-working people, someone ’s behavior can change dramatically if he or she faces hunger due to insufficient resources, and this can cause people to turn to theft or crime, impacting everyone ’s safety and security.
  • There ’s not an easy answer. Officials will consider options for reducing expenditures by identifying individuals who are receiving benefits but have the ability to work. However, these kinds of processes are already in place. The strict eligibility standard is the first line of defense against this. Social Security employs many highly-trained judges and adjudicators who are skilled at making disability determinations. They seek input from trained medical, psychological, and vocational experts. The health of a disability recipient can improve to the point that he or she is capable of returning to work, and Social Security conducts continuing reviews of disability cases to identify these individuals. While no one would oppose reasonable measures to identify those who don ’t meet the disability standard so that their benefits can be ceased, the fact is that Social Security ’s procedures are already effective in preventing these individuals from receiving benefits, and changing these procedures is not the kind of solution that will solve the budgetary problem.
  • President Obama has a plan to replenish the disability trust fund. The President favors shifting some payroll tax revenues from Social Security ’s retirement trust fund. Such a plan would prevent the negative consequences associated with cutting disability benefits. Officials can consider population demographics and factors such as the effects of improving medical technology on life expectancies as they evaluate such a plan. It is important that these officials give serious thought to putting this plan into action, because it could save some of this country ’s most vulnerable individuals from painful cuts in benefits.

For more information, see Robert Pear’s recent New York Times article Social Security Disability Benefits Face Cuts in 2016, Trustees Say.

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