The Trump administration is targeting Social Security reform with a proposal that could eliminate disability payments for thousands of people in the U.S. by making it harder to get — or retain — benefits.
The rule change, which is up for public comment through the end of January 2020, would alter how the Social Security Administration reviews individuals with disabilities to see if they still qualify for benefits.
Right now, individuals seeking two forms of Social Security disability payments (either Social Security Disability Insurance for people who have worked 10 years or more, or Supplemental Security Income for people who have never held a job or have worked very little) have to go through a rigorous application process that can take years.
SSDI, which pays out between $800 and $1,800 per month, provides benefits for 8.5 million Americans, while SSI covers another 8 million and has payouts up to $770 per month. Some quick math shows that’s around $155 billion per year paid between the two programs (and that’s using the low-end $800 per month for SSDI). It’s easy to see why Republicans have been arguing for cuts to the Social Security program that is on track to be insolvent by 2035.
What the Social Security Disability Proposal Would Change
Disability reviews happen in different time frames depending on what category the individual’s ailment falls under (“Medical Improvement Not Expected,” “Medical Improvement Expected” or “Medical Improvement Possible”), but the proposed change would add a fourth category, “Medical Improvement Likely.”
This fourth category would be subject to reviews every two years and around 4.4 million beneficiaries would be reclassified into the new category, according to Jennifer Burdick, an attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. The proposal would create an additional 2.6 million disability reviews in the first 10 years after the change was implemented.
Burdick says it would mostly affect children and what Social Security designates as Step 5 recipients, who are usually individuals between the ages of 50 and 65 that lack education or job skills, which federal law states are eligible for SSI or SSDI benefits. They are also usually suffering from ailments like depression, schizophrenia, a herniated disc or debilitating back pain.
The change would make the process for determining who can get Social Security benefits even more complicated, critics argue.
Critics of the Social Security Disability Proposal
Burdick thinks adding Step 5 recipients to the proposed “Medical Improvement Likely” category doesn’t make a ton of sense because “there’s no medical or scientific basis to say they’ll get better,” according to an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Some members of Congress have expressed concern for the Social Security proposal as well, saying it’s just another way for the Trump administration to cut entitlement programs without a sufficient explanation (saving taxpayer money isn’t a sufficient explanation, apparently).
“I have serious concerns about this proposed rule,” Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said. “(It) appears to be yet another attempt by the Trump administration to make it more difficult for people with disabilities to receive benefits.”
Casey’s fellow Pennsylvania senator, Democrat Brendan Boyle, echoed Casey’s remarks saying the proposal “seems like the next iteration of the Trump administration’s continued efforts to gut Social Security benefits.”
The Trump administration has also recently targeted the food stamp program with a plan that would eliminate food stamps for 700,000 able-bodied Americans, which would save taxpayers an estimated $5.5 billion over the next five years.
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