SSDI: Time for Action!

A lifeline of financial security for millions of Americans with disabilities, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), is currently under attack. Congress must adjust SSDI’s finances by the end of 2016 to prevent a devastating one-fifth across-the-board cut in benefits. Writing in the Journal of Health and Social Work, The Arc’s T.J. Sutcliffe makes the case for how social workers and other professionals in the field can and should support necessary action to strengthen and preserve this vital support for people with disabilities and their families.

Sign up for The Arc’s Capitol Insider weekly e-news and periodic Action Alerts to stay informed on the latest developments and take action to support the SSDI lifeline.

The Arc Joins Over 70 National Organizations to Speak Out Against Attacks on Social Security, SSDI

Social Security and its disability program are incredibly important to people with I/DD, providing modest support to make living independently a reality.  But this vital system is under attack in Washington, DC. Today, The Arc joined other major national organizations to release a letter with Senator Sherrod Brown (below) to oppose any cuts to the program.  Sign up for The Arc’s action center to stay informed and act to stop Congress from making cuts.

March 17, 2015

The Honorable Orrin Hatch

Chair, Committee on Finance

U.S. Senate

219 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

 

The Honorable Sam Johnson

Chair, Subcommittee on Social Security

Committee on Ways and Means

U.S. House of Representatives

B317 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

The Honorable Paul Ryan

Chair, Committee on Ways and Means

U.S. House of Representatives

1102 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Jeff Flake

U.S. Senate

368 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

 

The Honorable Joe Manchin

U.S. Senate

306 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

 

RE:      Opposition to proposals to eliminate or reduce concurrent Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits

Dear Chairman Hatch, Chairman Johnson, Chairman Ryan, Senator Flake, and Senator Manchin:

The undersigned members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), the Coalition on Human Needs, and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition write to express our opposition to proposals to eliminate or reduce concurrent Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits, including the “Social Security Disability Insurance and Unemployment Benefits Double Dip Elimination Act of 2015” (S. 499; H.R. 918) and the “Reducing Overlapping Payments Act of 2015” (S. 343).

SSDI and UI are vital insurance systems established for different purposes. Receiving UI and SSDI concurrently is legal and appropriate. This has been the long-standing position of the Social Security Administration and of the courts. Individuals qualify for SSDI because they have significant disabilities that prevent work at or above Social Security’s Substantial Gainful Activity level (earnings of $1,090 per month, in 2015). At the same time, the Social Security Act encourages SSDI beneficiaries to attempt to work, and those who have done so at a low level of earnings but have lost their job through no fault of their own may qualify for UI. As highlighted in a 2012 Government Accountability Office report, less than one percent of individuals served by SSDI and UI receive concurrent benefits, and the average quarterly concurrent benefit in fiscal year 2010 totaled only about $3,300 (or an average of $1,100 per month).

These extremely modest benefits can be a lifeline to workers with disabilities who receive them, and their families – and as permitted by law are neither “double-dipping” nor improper payments. We are deeply concerned by any prospect of worsening the economic security of workers with disabilities and their families.

In addition, proposed cuts to concurrent benefits single out SSDI beneficiaries with disabilities, treating them differently from other workers under the UI program.

Finally, proposed cuts to concurrent benefits create new disincentives to work for SSDI beneficiaries, by penalizing individuals who qualify for both SSDI and UI because they have attempted to work, as encouraged by law. The creation of a new work disincentive runs directly counter to our shared goal of expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

For these reasons, the undersigned national organizations strongly oppose the “Social Security Disability Insurance and Unemployment Benefits Double Dip Elimination Act of 2015” and the “Reducing Overlapping Payments Act of 2015.” We urge Congress to reject these bills and any similar legislation.

Sincerely,

9to5

ACCSES*

AFL-CIO

Alliance for Retired Americans

Alliance for Strong Families and Communities

American Council of the Blind*

American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSME)

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)*

Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)

Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs*

Association of University Centers on Disabilities*

Autism National Committee*

Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN)*

B’nai B’rith International

Brain Injury Association of America*

Campaign for America’s Future

Center for Community Change Action

Center for Effective Government

Coalition on Human Needs

Community Legal Services*

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund*

Easter Seals*

Equal Rights Advocates

Every Child Matters Education Fund

Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)

Goodwill Industries International*

Health & Disability Advocates*

Justice in Aging*

Latinos for a Secure Retirement

Lupus Foundation of America*

Lutheran Services in America Disability Network*

MomsRising

NAACP

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Alliance on Mental Illness*

National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities*

National Association of Disability Representatives*

National Association of State Directors of Special Education*

National Association of State Head Injury Administrators*

National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare*

National Council of Jewish Women

National Council on Aging*

National Council on Independent Living*

National Disability Rights Network (NDRN)*

National Down Syndrome Congress*

National Employment Law Project

National Employment Lawyers Association

National Industries for the Blind*

National Multiple Sclerosis Society*

National Organization for Women

National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives*

National Priorities Project

National Respite Coalition*

National Women’s Law Center

NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

OWL-The Voice of Women 40+

Paralyzed Veterans of America*

Provincial Council of the Clerics of St. Viator (Viatorians)

Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Coalition

Social Security Works

SourceAmerica*

Special Needs Alliance*

Strengthen Social Security Coalition

The Arc of the United States*

The Jewish Federations of North America*

The John O’Leary Organization

The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law*

Union for Reform Judaism

United Cerebral Palsy*

United Spinal Association*

United Steelworkers (USW)

USAction

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA)*

World Institute on Disability*

 

CC:

 

Original cosponsors, S. 499

The Honorable Daniel Coats

The Honorable James M. Inhofe

The Honorable James Lankford

The Honorable Tim Scott

 

Original cosponsors, H.R. 918

The Honorable Todd C. Young

The Honorable Mike Kelly

The Honorable Patrick J. Tiberi

The Honorable Diane Black

The Honorable David G. Reichert

The Honorable Charles W. Boustany, Jr.

The Honorable Adrian Smith

The Honorable James B. Renacci

The Honorable Tom Reed

The Honorable Aaron Schock

 

Members, U.S. Senate

Members, U.S. House of Representatives

 

* Members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD).

 

The CCD is a coalition of national organizations working together to advocate for federal public policy that ensures the self-determination, independence, empowerment, integration, and inclusion of the approximately 57 million children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society.

House Rules for 114th Congress Set Up Attack on Social Security and SSDI

This week, the House of Representatives adopted its rules of procedure for the 114th Congress (H. Res. 5). Stunningly, buried in this usually dry, non-controversial measure was an attack on Social Security that will put at risk Congress’s ability to prevent a 20% cut in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in 2016.

The provision, inserted by Representatives Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Tom Reed (R-NY) and approved by a vote of 234 to 168, sets up procedural hurdles to House consideration of a needed, routine replenishment of Social Security’s disability fund. Shockingly, these major changes were never considered in hearings or open to input from constituents. While these rules only affect the House – not the Senate – they set a dangerous tone for how the 114th Congress may deal with Social Security and SSDI.

Here are three facts about this week’s House action that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends need to know:

  1. Congress needs to act by 2016 to prevent 20% across-the-board cuts in SSDI benefits.

Congress from time to time needs to adjust Social Security’s finances to account for population and economic shifts. The need to replenish the DI fund in 2016 to account for current trends, such as an older workforce now in its disability-prone years, has been expected for several decades. Without Congressional action, in 2016 the DI fund’s reserves will be depleted, leaving only incoming payroll contributions to pay for benefits. As a result, unless Congress acts, SSDI beneficiaries will face benefit cuts of 20% at the end of 2016.

  1. “Reallocation” is the common-sense, traditional solution.

Over the last 5 decades, Congress has repeatedly, on a bipartisan basis, used a simple, common-sense solution to address shortfalls in either of Social Security’s two funds (the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance or OASI fund, and the Disability Insurance or DI fund). A temporary shift to direct more Social Security revenues to the DI fund – called “reallocation” — will extend the solvency of the DI fund for almost two decades. Congress has made similar shifts 11 times in the past, about equally increasing the percentage going into one fund or the other. Reallocation does not require any new taxes. Additionally, the solvency of the overall Social Security system stays the same, with the combined funds remaining fully solvent through 2033.

  1. The House action creates roadblocks to strengthening Social Security, include SSDI.

The House rules of procedure govern how the House operates. The provision adopted in the House rules for the 114th Congress bars the House from reallocating to the DI fund. Procedurally, the House can in the future vote to waive this requirement – meaning that a reallocation could move forward, but only if the rule is waived. But the insertion of this provision into the House rules will create serious roadblocks to reallocation – and to Congress’s ability to keep Social Security’s promise to the more than 165 million hardworking Americans who contribute to Social Security and the nearly 11 million Americans who currently receive SSDI.

Want to learn more? Here are a few articles on the House action, from:

Social Security Announces 2015 Cost of Living Increase for Beneficiaries

Today the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced a 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase for 2015. This modest increase will help preserve the buying power of Social Security benefits for nearly 64 million Americans, including many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who receive benefits under our nation’s Social Security system.

According to SSA, the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit will increase by $22, from $1,306 in 2014 to $1,328 in 2013. The average monthly benefit for a Social Security “disabled worker” beneficiary will increase by $19, from $1,146 in 2014 to $1,165 in 2015.

Higher Medicare premiums will offset some of this increase. Changes in Medicare premiums for 2015 are available at Medicare.gov.

Additionally, SSA today announced increases in important thresholds for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), including:

  • Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level – The SGA for SSDI and SSI will increase from $1,070 per month to $1,090 per month for non-blind beneficiaries, and from $1,800 per month to $1,820 per month for blind beneficiaries.
  • Trial Work Period (TWP) – The TWP for SSDI will increase from $770 per month to $780 per month.
  • SSI Federal Payment Standard – The SSI federal payment standard will increase for an individual from $721 per month to $733 per month, and for a couple from $1,082 per month to $1,100 per month.
  • SSI Student Earned Income Exclusion – The SSI student earned income exclusion monthly limit will increase from $1,750 to $1,780, and the exclusion’s annual limit will increase from $7,060 to $7,180.

Annual cost-of-living adjustments ensure that Social Security beneficiaries do not see their buying power eroded by inflation. SSDI and SSI benefits are modest, averaging only about $1,145 per month for SSDI beneficiaries in the “disabled worker” category and $535 per month for SSI beneficiaries. Every penny and every dollar counts for people who rely on these benefits to get by.

The Arc strongly supports ensuring adequate benefit levels, and has joined other national organizations to oppose proposals to reduce these much-needed annual cost-of living increases. Subscribe to The Arc’s Capitol Insider for updates to learn how you can help make sure that Social Security, SSI, and other vital supports are there for people with I/DD.

Social Security Trustees Release 2014 Report

The Social Security Trustees have released their annual report on the current and projected financial status of the Social Security trust funds. Similar to 2013, the 2014 findings show that Social Security is fully solvent until 2033, but faces a moderate long-term shortfall. In 2013, Social Security took in roughly $32 billion more than it paid out. Its reserves were $2.76 trillion in 2013, and are projected to grow to $2.9 trillion at the beginning of 2020. If Congress does not act before 2033, the reserves would be drawn down, and revenue coming into the Trust Funds would cover about 77 percent of scheduled benefits. The 2014 Trustees Report also continues to project that the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund by itself can pay all scheduled benefits until 2016. If Congress takes no action before 2016, the Trustees project that the DI trust fund will be able to pay about 81 percent of scheduled benefits.

As noted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the National Academy of Social Insurance, the long-term growth in DI has been predicted since the mid-1990s and is largely due to demographic factors. The U.S. population and the number of workers insured for DI (particularly, women) have grown over the last several decades, and the baby boomers are now in their high disability years.

Traditionally, Congress has reallocated payroll tax revenues between the OASI and DI trust funds to address projected shortfalls. According to the Social Security Chief Actuary as summarized by the CBPP, a modest reallocation of the total OASDI payroll tax, enacted prior to 2016, would allow both programs to pay full scheduled benefits through 2033 — their current combined depletion date. After that, modest increases in revenue can ensure the long-term solvency of the Social Security system for generations to come.

The Arc strongly supports these types of adjustments to ensure the short- and long-term solvency of the trust funds, so that Social Security can remain a lifeline for people with disabilities and their families for generations.

Statement of Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force Regarding Recent New York City Disability Fraud Allegations

Approximately 100 former police officers, firefighters and others were indicted this week in New York City for allegedly fraudulently obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits. The allegations are extremely troubling, and if true, these individuals’ actions are nothing short of deplorable.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force condemns any misuse of the Social Security disability programs. Any individual who seeks to abuse vital programs like Social Security does so at the expense of the millions of disabled workers for whom benefits provide essential economic security — and must be brought to justice.

At the same time, we must take care not to paint Social Security’s disability programs with the brush of the few who aim to defraud it, without putting them in the context of the millions of individuals who receive benefits appropriately and for whom Social Security is a vital lifeline.

Social Security’s disability programs are a core component of our nation’s Social Security system, which keeps millions of hardworking Americans and their families out of poverty. Extremely strict eligibility requirements mean that fewer than four in ten applicants are approved for disability benefits, even after all stages of appeal. Demonstrating eligibility requires extensive medical evidence, and many individuals are denied benefits despite significant disabilities and chronic illnesses. Benefits are modest but vital – averaging just over $500 per month for Supplemental Security Income and approximately $1,130 per month for Social Security Disability Insurance. For many, disability benefits make it possible to secure stable housing and purchase food, life-sustaining medications, and other basic necessities. Disability benefits can be the difference between life and death for many Americans.

The Social Security Administration works hard to ensure program integrity, but it requires adequate resources to do so. It has been deprived of adequate administrative resources to conduct necessary program integrity work for several years. Congress holds the purse strings to enable the Social Security Administration to ensure that benefits are paid to the right person, in the right amount, and at the right time— and to implement the array of critical safeguards that exist in current law.

We encourage anyone who suspects abuse of the Social Security disability programs to report it via Social Security’s hotline 1-800-269-0271 or online at www.oig.ssa.gov.

The Arc’s Statement on The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013

The Arc released the following statement in response to Congressional leaders reaching a budget agreement negotiated by Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.  The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 would set discretionary spending for the current fiscal year at $1.012 trillion (about halfway between the Senate budget level of $1.058 trillion and the House budget level of $967 billion).

This agreement will help preserve programs that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) rely on, restore order to the federal budget and appropriations process, and reduce the deficit by between $20 and $23 billion. Additionally the agreement provides $63 billion in sequester relief over two years, that will be split equally between defense and non-defense programs, which will prevent further cuts to important programs.

“While The Arc is pleased that the budget agreement did not make major changes to our lifeline programs including Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, we are concerned about what appears to be the expansion of the state Medicaid agencies’ ability to recoup costs from settlements from Medicaid beneficiaries.  This could affect payments owed to individuals and families who have been harmed, received compensation, and depend on the compensation to pay for expenses beyond what Medicaid covers.  Allowing a state Medicaid agency to recover ‘any payments’ by a third party with legal liability (rather than just those payments for health care items and services, as under current law) would leave beneficiaries without coverage for other basic necessities,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Another Media Hit on Social Security Disability Programs – Get the Facts

60_Minutes_logoSunday night, CBS’ 60 Minutes aired a piece they dubbed “Disability, USA” in which they portrayed the Social Security disability programs as exploding over the last few years and in danger of running out of funds. We’re deeply concerned that to press the panic button on the funding stream for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is irresponsible, and we’re saddened to see 60 Minutes join other national media in perpetrating myths and inaccuracies.

Members of The Arc and the individuals and families we serve know Social Security is an essential lifeline that keeps millions of Americans with significant disabilities from homelessness and deep poverty.  About 1 in 5 Americans live with a disability, and this report failed to show the importance these programs play in many of their lives.

It’s disappointing to see reporting that puts people who rely on these programs to survive on edge, when the truth is much less sensational but also much more interesting.  Here are three important facts to keep in mind:

1. It’s incredibly difficult to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.  The Social Security Act’s disability standard is one of the strictest in the developed world.  Fewer than four in ten applicants are approved, even after all stages of appeal.  Many are terminally ill: 1 in 5 male SSDI beneficiaries and nearly 1 in 6 female SSDI beneficiaries die within 5 years of receiving benefits.  Due to the complexity of the process, many people who appeal seek help from an attorney or representative who is paid by the claimant out of past-due benefits – not out of the Disability Insurance Trust Fund, as suggested by 60 Minutes. As noted by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, the fee process for Social Security claims is highly regulated and the average fee in most cases is less than $3,000.

2. For those of us paying attention, the growth in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is not surprising – in fact, it has been projected since 1994.  According to Social Security’s Chief Actuary, the growth in SSDI (from 1980 to 2010) is mostly the result of several factors: substantial growth in the U.S. population; the baby boomers aging into their high-disability years; and women entering the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s and 1980s so that more are now “insured” for SSDI based on their own prior contributions.

3.  The DI trust fund will need to be replenished in 2016 – but this is not a new development, or an unprecedented one.  Since Social Security was enacted, Congress has “reallocated” payroll tax revenues between the OASI (retirement) and DI (disability) trust funds – about equally in both directions – some 11 times to account for demographic shifts. In 1994, the last time such reallocation occurred, SSA actuaries accurately projected that similar action would next be required in 2016.

The 60 Minutes program also reported on fraud in the system that occurred in West Virginia and Kentucky.  The Social Security Administration – and advocacy organizations like The Arc – takes fraud very seriously because it harms the millions of honest people who rely on the program as a lifeline to basic necessities, and it hurts the integrity of the program.  Anytime you suspect fraud is occurring, you can contact the SSA hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or report it online.  We all want to root out the bad actors and focus the program on those that need it most – people with disabilities who without the SSA, would be homeless, hungry, and cut off from access to life saving medicines and services.  But it’s also important to keep in mind that most experts agree that fraud is very rare. Former SSA Commissioner Michael J. Astrue, appointed by President George W. Bush, estimates that fraud constitutes less than 1 percent of all applicants.

Finally, we believe that resources are vital to ensuring that SSA can properly administer its disability programs. The continued impact of underfunding has had serious implications, including limiting the agency’s ability to perform vital watchdog functions. And the current government shutdown is having even more dramatic effects.

Here are some additional resources for learning more about the facts on the Social Security disability programs:

Happy Birthday Social Security!

Social Security CardsThis week marks the 78th anniversary of our nation’s Social Security system. At The Arc, we know that Social Security is a lifeline for over 9.6 million beneficiaries with disabilities, including many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Social Security improves our lives in so many ways. It provides basic economic security for workers and their families – including children and spouses with disabilities –  when a worker retires, dies, or acquires a significant disability. It helps people with disabilities who work all their lives enjoy a secure retirement. And it provides access to health insurance through Medicare, enabling many people with disabilities to get the medical care they need to survive and live in the community.

Social Security covers nearly all Americans, or an estimated 163 million workers. In comparison, 70 percent of private sector workers has no long-term disability insurance, 50 percent has no private pension, and 34 percent has no savings set aside for retirement.

It’s hard to imagine what would happen without Social Security. Benefits are modest, averaging about $1,100 to $1,200 per month, but go a long way in reducing poverty among beneficiaries with disabilities and their families. Many people with disabilities tell us that even a small cut in their Social Security benefits would mean facing terrible choices, like whether to take a prescribed medication or buy groceries.

The Arc knows how important it is to preserve Social Security. Over the last year, we’ve been on the front lines, speaking out against proposals like the chained CPI that would cut Social Security benefits and providing in-depth analysis.  The Arc also has many recommendations for strengthening Social Security so that the system works better for people with disabilities and stays financially strong for decades to come.

Please join us in making sure this vital protection is there for people with I/DD and their families! For more information about Social Security, or to apply for benefits, visit http://www.ssa.gov.

Eight Former Commissioners of Social Security Voice Support for Disability Programs, Concerns with High Profile Series on NPR

In the aftermath of a series recently aired on This American Life, All Things Considered, and National Public Radio (NPR) stations across the U.S. (“Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America”), eight former Commissioners of the Social Security Administration (SSA) released an open letter in support of the Social Security disability programs.  The former Commissioners also raised concerns with how the series characterized the programs, stating:  “We are deeply concerned that the series ‘Unfit for Work’ failed to tell the whole story and perpetuated dangerous myths about the Social Security disability programs and the people helped by this vital system.  We fear that listeners may come away with an incorrect impression of the program—as opposed to an understanding of the program actually based on facts.

“As former Commissioners of the agency, we could not sit on the sidelines and witness this one perspective on the disability programs threaten to pull the rug out from under millions of people with severe disabilities.”

The letter was signed by:

  • Kenneth S. Apfel
  • Michael J. Astrue
  • Jo Anne B. Barnhart
  • Shirley S. Chater
  • Herbert R. Doggette
  • Louis D. Enoff
  • Larry G. Massanari
  • Lawrence H. Thompson

Read the full letter here.