In a recent letter to Congressional leaders [PDF], the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities laid out an array of recommendations for protecting and improving the Social Security Disability Insurance system, whose trust fund is scheduled to run out at the end of the year.
If no changes are made, SSDI beneficiaries face a 20 percent across-the-board cut in benefits at the start of 2016. Traditionally, Congress has overcome impending shortfalls in the SSDI program by borrowing money from the trust fund for the much larger Old-Age and Survivor’s Insurance Trust Fund, which is not set to run out until 2033.
Thus far, however, Congressional Republicans have balked at supporting such a reallocation.
“Merging Social Security’s trust funds or reallocating payroll taxes to ensure solvency through 2034 – without any accompanying cuts to Social Security coverage, eligibility, or benefits – is the common sense, responsible solution that Congress should enact promptly,” the letter states. “Such action by Congress is needed to keep Social Security’s promise to the more than 165 million Americans who currently contribute to the system and the nearly 11 million Americans who currently receive SSDI benefits.”
In the letter, the CCD argues Congress should not compensate for the shortfall by changing the basic structure of SSDI or the definition of disability, adding that the program’s recent increase is the largely the result of demographic changes: an aging workforce and the increase of women in the workforce.
To improve the system’s efficiency, CCD recommends expanding the number of disabilities that automatically qualify people for SSDI, as well as reducing unnecessary hearings.
The CCD also recommended that the Social Security Administration take steps to improve the development of evidence earlier in the process – such as by simplifying the documentation and encouraging applicants to seek representation – in order to reduce the number of cases that unnecessarily have to be appealed.
As to the post-application process, the CCD recommends eliminating unnecessary wait times, such as the 5-month wait period for receiving benefits and the 2-year period to automatically qualify for Medicare, contending that these periods impose unnecessary hardships on beneficiaries.
As to the issue of SSDI applicants capable of performing some work activities, CCD recommends improving work incentives and work opportunities, though it argued that such measures be voluntary and not viewed as cost-saving measures.
Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.