In the wake of a highly publicized article from last week’s Wall Street Journal that declared government auditors have found that Social Security Disability will be completely out of money within the next four to seven years, there has been much debate this week about “entitlement reform” and congressional cuts to national benefits programs like SSDI and SSI as a means of helping to fix the government’s enormous budget deficit. While several prominent politicians have stated that they will oppose such cuts to Social Security programs, many people who currently rely on cash benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), or are considering applying for Social Security Disability in order to make ends meet, are rightfully concerned about how Social Security reform might directly impact their lives.
What are Entitlement Programs?
Legally, the term “entitlement program” simply refers any program that provides benefit payments to individuals based on eligibility criteria under law. In the United States, such programs include Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, Welfare, and others. Though often lumped together in the context of political discussion, a major difference between Social Security and other “handout” programs is that the SSA operates its benefits programs primarily on an insurance model, where individuals can qualify for benefit payments based on what they have previously paid into the system through taxes.
Changes to Social Security Disability
Given the recent buzz about the looming bankruptcy of Social Security Disability, and the national attention currently focused on the reform of entitlement programs, disabled individuals across the country who rely on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are wondering how cuts to Social Security will directly affect their benefits.
While a number of congressional leaders have stated that major changes to Social Security are unlikely, at least one resolution has come before the US House of Representatives proposing as much as $1.7 billion in cuts to Social Security Administration’s discretionary spending budget.
Fortunately, cuts to discretionary spending are unlikely to affect the benefit payments of those already receiving benefits through Social Security Disability. There would also be no reductions to the overall availability of benefit money, or changes to the requirements for receiving disability through the SSA.
What such cuts will significantly impact, however, is the overall efficiency of the SSA, and its state-run Disability Determination Services, in processing new applications for disability benefits, resulting in an increase in the SSA’s backlog of claims and extensions of hearing waiting periods that can already take more than two years.
From Bad to Worse…
In terms of Social Security Disability, careless changes made to programs in the name of entitlement reform will likely serve only to exacerbate current problems with disability claim backlogs, extensive wait times, and system-wide inefficiency in claim processing, while also proving detrimental to the small progress that the Social Security Administration has made in these areas over the past several years.