President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, recently submitted to Congress, included some changes to the Social Security Disability Insurance program that had been recommended a few years ago in the bipartisan McCrery-Pomeroy report, named for its leaders, Jim McCrery, a former Republican U.S. House member from Louisiana, and former Democratic House member Earl Pomeroy from North Dakota.

Both the Trump budget and McCrery-Pomeroy initiative, called SSDI Solutions: Ideas to Strengthen the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, proposed establishing an expert panel to recommend changes to disability programs to boost disabled Americans’ participation in the labor force. They recommended the changes be based on evidence gathered from demonstration projects, such as coordinated health care and job services, and early intervention from state vocational rehabilitation programs.

But some of those initiatives have shown little success.

The federal government’s Social Security Disability Insurance and Social Security Insurance programs provide benefits to people who have severe disabilities that prevent them from working. The programs use medical criteria, age and employment history to determine disability benefits.

The Social Security Disability Insurance program provides supplemental income to adults with disabilities. Social Security Insurance offers monthly payments to low-income people who are over the age of 65 or severely disabled.

The 1956 legislation that started the Social Security Disability Insurance program specified that people applying for a determination of a disability must be referred promptly to their state vocational rehabilitation program. The goal was “to have as many beneficiaries as possible rehabilitated to productive employment.”

A Government Accountability Office study found, however, that only about 3 in 1,000 beneficiaries left the disability benefit rolls after receiving services from a state vocational rehabilitation agency. Many beneficiaries chose not to participate in rehabilitation programs because they feared they would lose their disability cash benefits and Medicare coverage.

The GAO also found that the federal Social Security Administration’s employment services program, called Ticket to Work, has resulted in only modest increases in employment among participants and few disability benefit reductions.

Only about 1 percent of beneficiaries are removed from the disability rolls each year because their health has improved, according to Social Security Administration data.



According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the current labor force participation for people with disabilities is only 20.6 percent, compared to 68.6 percent for people without disabilities.

Under the Trump budget, an immediate cost-savings measure would reduce the 12-month retroactive disability benefit to six months. Another measure would prohibit people from receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits while also receiving unemployment insurance benefits.

The Office of Management and Budget projected that under the proposed budget, Social Security Disability Insurance payments would decrease by $113 million in 2018. The savings would reach $1.4 billion by 2027.

The Trump policy also would limit the amount of time that people could receive disability benefits if they have conditions that are likely to improve.

Certain applicants for disability benefits would be required to engage in job-seeking activities before their application would be considered, and people with lower back pain or arthritis would be required to first try physical or occupational therapy.

It won’t be easy for applicants to find jobs.

Research continues to indicate that employers are reluctant to hire people with disabilities, especially employers who lack an understanding of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA does not require employers to make accommodations that would cause them an undue hardship or expense.

Research also shows that when an employee experiences health problems, human resource personnel and short-term disability managers too often recommend that workers apply for disability benefits rather than encourage the business to make accommodations to retain employees.

Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center. He can be reached at a@winnegar.com.

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