On Tuesday, the third hearing on Securing the Future of the Social Security Disability Insurance Program took place. This meeting, held by the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Social Security, was called to address how Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) eligibility decisions are made.
A large portion of the testimony submitted for the hearing discussed what the Social Security Administration (SSA) has done to revise the Social Security Disability process, as well as the challenges it faces.
Some of the principal points made on the SSA's challenges include:
- Increase in claims: There has been a 25 percent increase in disability claims during the recession, most of which are legitimate claims. (Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner, SSA)
- Improvements made: The SSA has improved the disability process at a minimal cost to taxpayers over the last few years. Even with the large increase in claims, some wait times are down, such as wait times on the 800-number. Although still not ideal, the hearing backlog is at the lowest it has been since 2003. (Astrue)
- SSA's budget: The SSA is currently operating on a budget that is $400 million less than in Fiscal Year 2010, even though the President requested a greater appropriation. (Astrue) "The failure to provide SSA with adequate resources has had an impact on the ability of SSA to process disability applications and complete determinations in a timely manner." (Lisa Ekman, Senior Policy Advisor, Health & Disability Advocates)
- Administrative Law Judges: The differences in Administrative Law Judges' decisions has an impact on the number of appeals filed. (Nicole Maestas, Senior Economist, RAND Corporation)
Unlike with previous hearings, the written testimony for this hearing did not go in depth about the disability applicants. Rather, the testimony reiterated that the Social Security definition of disability is strict and the SSDI program is both necessary and effective.
According to Lisa Ekman, "One in five male SSDI beneficiaries and one in seven female SSDI beneficiaries die within the first five years of receiving benefits." Furthermore, beneficiaries often remain poor while receiving SSDI - one in three people receiving SSDI live in households whose total income is below the federal poverty level.
There is a wide range of propaganda that points fingers at SSDI beneficiaries as the cause of the current "Social Security Disability crisis." Instead, as shown in the testimony for this hearing, the potential problems lie within the process itself, not with the SSDI applicants. And the SSA needs more funding, not less, to make improvements.
Source: Committee on Ways and Means, "Chairman Johnson Announces the Third in a Hearing Series on Securing the Future of the Social Security Disability Insurance Program," Mar. 20, 2012.