Disaster averted, SSD problems remain

Last week, it was announced that Congress has worked out a deal that will prevent the nearly 20 percent cut to Social Security Disability benefits that was likely to have occurred next year. However, it failed to address the long-term issues that affect SSD, meaning the issue will need to be dealt with yet again by a future Congress.

The deal also averts a government shutdown, which is always a positive, given the delays that already affect many aspects of the SSD program. The unavailability of Social Security offices and forced rescheduling of appeals hearings would have been less than ideal, especially given the recent report that noted the wait for those hearings is now averaging 470 days.

Nonetheless, disability advocates were not overly excited by the deal. While severe harm to beneficiaries was avoided by preventing cuts next year and it does not appear that significant damage was done in the form of privatizing elements of the program, no long-term solutions were contained in the budget.

The deal claims it will save money by creating some type of "prescreening," but it is unclear how that will work. Some advocates are concerned with what appears to be the need for a doctor to approve initial applications. Since medical evidence is already a prime requirement, such a requirement may not provide much in the way of value, but could add more time to the application process, slowing down the already cumbersome process even more.

There will also be another "demonstration program" that will allow some individuals to work and earn outside income. It appears to avoid a strict income cutoff that current programs feature, and uses a more graduated reduction, in the hopes that those who could return to work would be less fearful of losing their benefits.

However, it is unlikely that such a step alone will do much to help the majority of beneficiaries find employment outside the SSD program.

Source: huffingtonpost.com, "Social Security Advocates Shrug At Budget Deal," Daniel Marans, Arthur Delaney, October 27, 2015

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