Social Security Disability reform is needed now to ensure the program remains in existence
Before lawmakers leave for another recess, we are once again dealing with a September full of last-minute funding attempts and series of bills that seek to promote individual member priorities instead of attempting to solve some of the most pressing issues facing our government. Issues like our national debt, or the insolvency of Social Security and Social Security Disability (SSDI), that will have lasting effects on Americans for generations to come. And while addressing these issues may seem like an issue for tomorrow, the truth is, if legislators do not act now, we risk being unable to effectively adjust these policies without massive fall out.
I can’t pretend to offer a solution for all the issues our nation is facing- but one problem we can start to address now is the solvency and efficiency of the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI). At its core, the current SSDI program is flawed. Almost half of the factors used in determining eligibility for the program are not medically based and continuing disability reviews (CDRs), that help ensure the benefits are going to those who need them are not regularly conducted.
Further, the latest Social Security Trustee report estimates that the SSDI trust fund will be depleted by 2054. While this projection is significantly later than 2018’s estimate of 2032, it is still well within the lifetime of most Americans alive today. SSDI was created so that people who are unable to work because of disability have a way to support themselves - if we make changes now we can ensure that this vital program remains intact well beyond the next 35 years.
That is why I am introducing the Making DI Work for all Americans Act. This bill makes key reforms to SSDI that target the efficiency and long-term solvency of the program, all while not changing the benefits current recipients receive.
The provisions in this bill target SSDI’s inefficient determination process and outdated measurement of disability by requiring Social Security to update the list of jobs that exist in the national economy- for example removing jobs like “telegraph editor” and adding the variety of technology-related jobs that have entered the economy. The bill also directs Social Security to update their medical-vocational grids, or the non-medical determinants used to assess eligibility for SSDI, to account for the modernization of the workforce.
This bill also subjects SSDI judges to a similar code of ethics that is applied to other judges and adds a review process for judges whose rates of approval for benefits are significantly outside of their peers. Further, Making DI Work for all Americans Act allows disability applicants to be in control of their own money by ending Social Security autopayments to representatives. Under the current system, Social Security deducts payment for their representatives from the benefits applicants are approved for- whether the representative provided assistance or not.
Additionally, Making DI Work for all Americans Act increases the frequency of continuing disability reviews. This is so that SSDI does not become a long-term income replacement program for those with temporary need, while also ensuring the program is available for those who need it when they need it.
Finally, the largest change this bill makes is to restore the program to its original goal of poverty prevention through the establishment of a flat anti-poverty benefit for all new recipients. Currently, individuals with the lowest income, and therefore the highest need for these benefits, receive the smallest benefit checks. By moving to a flat benefit, we can ensure that those who need SSDI are able to live off of it, while the overall longevity of the SSDI program is increased.
Over the past few years, fewer people are using SSDI as a long-term unemployment solution- which has added years to the program's solvency. However, in order to ensure that this program remains in existence to serve those who need it, we have a responsibility to address the issues with the program now- not 10, 20, or 30 years from now when it is too late. Because of this, I am excited to introduce the Making DI Work for All Americans Act, which transforms SSDI into a more effective program that meets the needs of individuals with disabilities while increasing the longevity of the program.
Ted S. Yoho is a member of the House Freedom Caucus.