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Good ideas, but they won't fix SSDI's shortfall

Concerns over the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are real. The trust fund that provides a portion of the payments made to millions of disabled workers is expected to be exhausted within the next year or two. This would have dire consequences for beneficiaries, as they could see their SSD payments cut by about 20 percent.

Given the fact that the payments are not overly generous to begin with, a 20 percent cut would make many disabled workers lives much more precarious financially, and would further increase the stress they face. 

There are suggestions on how to improve the SSD program, and a Stanford economist argues that reforms should include an increased number of continuing disability reviews (CDR). These reviews are performed to evaluate participant's medical conditions and determine if they have improved sufficiently to allow them to engage in significant gainful activity (SGA).

SGA is the standard that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to determine if a worker is disabled and qualifies for benefits.

The economist also recommended that more be done to help workers both return to work and provide incentives for employers to do more to prevent workers from becoming disabled and needing the program.

At a high level, these are reasonable suggestion, but in the current political environment, they are somewhat irrelevant. The CDRs require trained staff, and SSA has been underfunded and suffered staff reductions in recent years. Significantly increasing CDRs would take years to put in place, absent massive infusions of cash to SSA.

Shifting part of the cost of the program to employers, makes sense, as many disabling impairments are at least in part work related. However, this change is politically challenging and could take many years to develop and implement, as employers are unlikely to willing accept responsibility for this program. The status quo suits them fine, having shifted these costs to the government and to taxpayers.

And more critically, neither of these "reforms" would alleviate the funding crisis facing the program that needs to be dealt with in the next year.

Sierra Sun Times, "Stanford Economist Says Social Security's Support for People With Disabilities Faces Challenges in Funding, Efficiency," Clifton B. Parker, July 31, 2015 

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