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A Vital Lifeline for People with Disabilities Lisa D. Ekman, JD, MSW.

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Presentation on theme: "A Vital Lifeline for People with Disabilities Lisa D. Ekman, JD, MSW."— Presentation transcript:

1 A Vital Lifeline for People with Disabilities Lisa D. Ekman, JD, MSW

2 SSDI Is Vitally Important For People With Disabilities SSDI benefits lift many people with disabilities and their family members out of poverty For many people with disabilities, the SSDI benefits they earned are the only thing that keeps them from homelessness and destitute poverty Provides access to health care and long-term services and supports

3 SSDI Beneficiary Characteristics SSDI beneficiaries are a diverse group, including people with: heart disease end stage renal failure significant intellectual disabilities severe mental illness severe physical disabilities advanced stage cancers debilitating arthritis deafness blindness

4 SSDI Beneficiary Characteristics Some are terminally ill: About 1 in 5 male SSDI beneficiaries and just under 1 in 6 female SSDI beneficiaries die within the first five years of receiving benefits SSDI beneficiaries tend to be older About 7 in 10 are over 50 Approximately 3 in 10 are over 60 And have low educational attainment 42% did not finish high school 35.3% have high school diploma or equivalent

5 Can A Significant Percentage Work and Become Self-Supporting? SSDI beneficiaries should be given every support, service and encouragement to work but: Available data show that a large percentage will never have the capacity for ongoing work at a significant level Rejected applicants don’t fare very well: Barely half of rejected applicants have any earnings. Some 53 percent of rejected male applicants age 45 to 64 (compared with about 20 percent of accepted applicants) had any earnings two years after application, as compared with 82 percent of a control group (selected for its similar demographic characteristics and past work history) of non-applicants who had earnings. Two years after application, 43 percent of rejected applicants (compared with about 13 percent of accepted applicants) had earnings equivalent to three months out of the year at the minimum wage. In contrast, 79 percent of non- applicants had at least that level of earnings. For those with earnings, median amounts are quite low. Among rejected applicants who worked, median annual earnings (in 2000 dollars) were only $10,000, just slightly above the poverty threshold, (compared with about $3,500 for accepted applicants). This compared with median earnings of $35,000 among non-applicants. Kathy Ruffing, Social Security Disability Insurance is Vital to Workers With Severe Impairments, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, August 9,

6 SSDI is not a work disincentive just over 8 in 10 reported that the biggest barrier to employment was their own disability (80.5 percent). More than 9 in 10 people surveyed indicated that the receipt of public income support benefits had NO effect on their work activity. In fact, 92.5 percent of those who received financial assistance within the past year reported that “the program(s) they used did not cause them to work less than they otherwise would have.” United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, News Release, PERSONS WITH A DISABILITY: BARRIERS TO EMPLOYMENT,TYPES OF ASSISTANCE, AND OTHER LABOR-RELATED ISSUES —MAY 2012,” April 24, 2013; available at

7 Early Intervention – Start Years Before Application for Benefits Earnings deteriorate several years before application

8 Sustainability and Affordability Are a Matter of Priorities Americans support Social Security and they don’t mind paying for it Given a choice, they would rather pay more than see benefits cuts- NASI Survey – see next slide The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities supports revenue only options Benefits are already modest as Melissa explained Any cuts will cause more hardship and more poverty

9 Social Security: What Americans Want…… ELIMINATE CAP: Gradually, over 10 years, eliminate the cap on earnings that are taxed for Social Security. INCREASE TAX RATE: Gradually, over 20 years, raise the Social Security tax that workers and employers each pay from 6.2% of earnings to 7.2%. The increase would be so gradual that someone earning $50,000 a year would pay about 50 cents a week more each year. INCREASE COLA: Increase Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to more accurately reflect the inflation actually experienced by seniors, who typically pay more out-of-pocket for medical care than other households. RAISE MINIMUM BENEFIT: Raise Social Security’s minimum benefit so that a worker who pays into Social Security for 30 years can retire at 62 or later and have benefits above the federal poverty line ($10,788 for one person aged 65 or older in 2011). Source: Jasmine V. Tucker, Virginia P. Reno, Thomas N. Bethell, Strengthening Social Security: What Do Americans Want?, National Academy of Social Insurance, January 2013,

10 Does SSDI Need Reform? SSDI is functioning as it should – providing vital wage replacement to millions of people with disabilities and their families who need it More must be done to help people who acquire disabilities stay at work if they can and provide support and services to SSDI beneficiaries with work capacity to obtain and maintain employment But this is not, and should not be, the role of SSDI program

11 Principles for Reform Any reform should preserve the structure of the SSDI program, including the definition of disability Efforts to increase employment opportunities and improve employment outcomes for Social Security disability beneficiaries should not be achieved through: any tightening of eligibility criteria for cash benefits narrowing of health care benefits removing the entitlement to benefits or devolving responsibility to the states

12 Principles for Reform (cont) SSDI benefit receipt should not be time limited Work activities, and work preparation activities, should be voluntary for SSDI beneficiaries The Social Security Administration should be given adequate administrative resources to: Perform disability determinations in a timely manner Perform program integrity functions: Continuing disability reviews Prevent overpayments


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