The Social Security Disability Insurance fund will be funded through 2022 at current benefit levels, representing a partial victory for disability rights advocates, under the new two-year budget deal signed by President Obama on November 2.
“Remedying the uncertainty caused by inaction on federal funding and the impending debt limit crisis is good for all Americans, including people with disabilities,” Marty Ford, senior executive officer for public policy with the Arc said in a news release. “While recognizing that the bill is a result of numerous compromises to reach agreement, we are deeply disappointed that the solvency of the SSDI program, a lifeline for people with disabilities, is not extended to 2034.”
At current projections, the fund was set to run out at the end of this year, resulting in a nearly 20 percent across-the-board benefits cut. While the SSA traditionally prevents such shortfalls by transferring money between the funds for that of SSDI and the much-larger Old-Age and Survivor’s Insurance program, the House of Representatives passed a bill in January preventing it from doing so, setting up a potential budget showdown over the program.
The deal represents a compromise. While the two funds currently have enough funding to keep both programs solvent through 2034, the deal only allows the SSDI fund to be replenished at current levels for seven years.
In an attempt to extend the life of the SSDI fund, the deal includes a variety of structural changes to the program. Specifically, the bill expands the Cooperative Disability Investigative program, a joint program with the SSA and state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate fraud, according to the Washington Post.
It also increases penalties for fraud, bars ex-felons from making disability benefits determinations, increases the number of SSDI administrative law judges, and instructs the SSA to expand its electronic record keeping efforts.
Disability advocates, however, received a long sought after victory in the form of a test program aimed at allowing individuals to earn more money while continuing to receive SSDI benefits.
Currently, SSDI benefits are automatically cut off when a recipient returns to work and makes more than $1,090 per month over a nine-month period, in what is known as “the cash cliff.” The budget deal attempts to smooth out this cliff by making it more of a slope, by decreasing a person’s benefits by $1 for every $2 they earn.
In addition to the SSDI changes, the budget deal prevents the possibility of a government shutdown until at least March 2017 and eliminates sequester budget caps imposed in 2011, paving the way for potential increased funding for a range of domestic programs.
“This compromise represents a step in the right direction,” the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities said in a news release [PDF]. “It is designed to restore order to the federal budget and appropriations process, and will allow for the preservation of much needed programs for people with disabilities.
“A functioning, effective federal government is critical to people with disabilities who disproportionately rely on government services to live, learn and work in their communities.”