President’s proposed federal budget would slash SSDI by billions

Proposals seem to focus on getting disabled people back to work and eliminating fraud and waste.

Social Security Disability Insurance, known as SSDI, is a federal program that provides monthly payments to people who have significant and long-term disabilities that prevent them from working. President Trump's proposed federal budget for 2018 proposes slashing about $70 billion over the next decade from the SSDI budget, according to estimates from Time.

Savings methods unclear

What is confusing about such a proposal is that SSDI benefit payments are funded by the American people themselves through the payroll deductions we all make for Social Security, rather than out of general revenues of the federal government. On review, the budget itself provides little detail about exactly where this savings would come from.

According to the budget document, the broad goal is to "promote greater LFP," meaning labor force participation, perhaps by trying to return SSDI recipients to the workforce or tighten qualifications. The document says that disability benefits are needed for "workers with long-term and permanent disabilities who are unable to work." Confusingly, it also says that disability insurance "should ... [help] people to stay in the workforce and be self-sufficient."

This seems to reflect a disconnect with the purpose of the program, which is exactly what the document says is needed. SSDI helps those who are severely disabled on a long-term basis, preventing work activity. Eligible disability must either result in death or be expected to last at least one year.

Administration proposals

Although some of the language is broad or vague, these appear to be some of the ways the budget document suggests that the administration would attempt reforms to make these billions of dollars in SSDI cuts:

  • Make efforts to terminate benefits for people who lose eligibility
  • Provide ways and incentives for people who are temporarily disabled to return to work (a temporary disability under this program is one that lasts at least one year, as that is the minimum length of disability required for eligibility)
  • Eliminate "loopholes" allowing fraud
  • Make "fraud facilitators" pay back resulting overpayments
  • Require a probationary period for all new administrative law judges, called ALJs, who hear and decide cases on appeal within the agency
  • Require applicants and recipients to participate in mandatory programs that will be developed to get people back to work
  • Reduce eligibility for retroactive benefits from 12 months to six months
  • Consider ways to offset SSDI payments with payments from state programs like workers' compensation, unemployment and disability payments
  • Increase collection efforts of overpaid benefits

What will happen to these proposals when they are considered by Congress remains to be seen, but the media has reported widely that experts doubt the administration will have much success with this budget as written in the legislative process. Still, it is unsettling to see an assault on a program that is so financially important to so many disabled workers and their families.

The lawyers at Midwest Disability, P.A., in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, represent clients throughout the Twin Cities and Midwestern states, as well as nationwide, in claims for Social Security Disability Insurance. We assist SSDI claimants in their initial applications, on appeal before the Social Security Administration and in federal courts.