The House Committee on Ways and Means' Subcommittee on Social Security has announced that it will hold a series of hearings focusing on the "current and future financing challenges" of the Social Security Disability Insurance benefits program. Titled "Securing the Future of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program," the hearings will begin in early December.
"Disabilities have a devastating effect on individuals and their families, and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits provide important income security that they rely on," Ways and Means Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) said in announcing the hearings. Johnson predicted that within seven years, "the disability program will be unable to pay full benefits unless changes to the law are made." He described the hearing as "a much-needed conversation about the challenges facing this vital program and solutions that can meet the needs of those with disabilities and the workers who support the program through their hard-earned tax dollars."
While the financial issues are real; we are very concerned that the political agenda is to try to limit the number or claims that are approved; rather than on working to improve the review process and finding alternate methods of funding the payments made to the disabled.
While it is easy for politicians to say that many people who are approved do not "deserve" disability, those of us who represent them every day, and the claimants themselves, all know how difficult it is to obtain benefits. The focus has to be on streamlining and funding the process; not limiting its reach.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides SSDI benefits payments to individuals, their spouses and children who are unable to work for a year or more due to a physical or mental impairment. In order to receive SSDI benefits, the disabled person must have made sufficient payments into the Social Security system.
The Congressional Budget Office reports that the number of people receiving SSDI benefits has nearly tripled in the last 40 years to a current total of almost 10 million. In September, the SSA paid $9.7 billion in benefits to 8.5 million disabled workers and 2.0 million of their spouses and dependent children.
The rising number of beneficiaries is putting a strain on the system. SSDI and the SSA's Supplemental Security Income program - through which the government makes payments to adults and children who are disabled or blind and have limited income and resources - are both funded primarily by payroll taxes and to a lesser extent by interest on U.S. bonds held by the SSA. Last year about $49 billion in Social Security benefits payouts could not be covered by taxes. While this amount is covered by bond income for now, SSA actuaries expect that SSDI benefits will exceed both tax and bond income by 2018 (2022 for SSI). At that point the SSA will need to start selling bonds in order to keep pace, a move that will allow for full benefits payments until only 2036.
As a result of the impending shortfall, a number of elected officials and political leaders have called for widespread changes to Social Security as we now know it. Hence, the Committee hearings.
Have an idea on how to "fix" the SSDI program? Now is your chance. The Subcommittee advises that anyone who so wishes "may submit a written statement for consideration by the Subcommittee and for inclusion in the printed record of the hearing."
A person seeking Social Security disability benefits must file a claim with the SSA, starting what is often a timely and confusing process through which the SSA determines whether the applicant is indeed eligible for benefits. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer can play a vital role in the process by gathering the necessary information and documentation to prove the claim, completing the claim forms and submitting them on behalf of the claimant.
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