President Trump’s fiscal budget for 2021, released earlier this month, proposed Social Security cuts across the board, but especially significant reductions in terms of Social Security Disability Insurance. The proposals would encourage those receiving disability benefits to leave the system by returning to work (although this is in reality unlikely to be effective), and they would reduce the possibility of receiving retroactive benefits for 12 months to 6 months.
These proposals come on the heels of cuts proposed in November last year, when the Trump administration outlined new rules they will attempt to implement regarding qualifications for receiving Social Security disability benefits.
These cuts would mean ending benefits for tens of thousands of people currently claiming Social Security disability benefits. The new regulations would implement a process called “Continuing Disability Reviews” that would require more checks for those who are receiving Social Security disability payments.
Advocates for people with disabilities have voiced their discontent with both sets of proposals, calling the revision process a “backdoor way” to deny Social Security from those who need it the most, and citing the unlikelihood that even incentive programs would enable any significant number of the severely disabled who claim benefits to re-enter the workforce.
The Social Security Disability benefits program is already under constant criticism from many due to the length of time that it takes to review disability claims and its strict requirements for qualifying. Officials have attempted to reassure the public by stating that the proposals would ensure that only those who qualify for benefits will continue to receive them, while the integrity of the Social Security disability program would be enhanced.
Who Is Impacted?
There are currently over 16 million adults and children who receive Social Security disability benefits. The administration has not yet specified the exact demographics that the rules would affect, but if the plan to implement Continuing Disability Reviews is approved, 4.4 million continuing disability reviews will be conducted over ten years.
The reviews would cost the administration $1.6 billion, but they would save $2.8 billion in cuts from the program. Although just over a billion dollars would be a beneficial amount of savings, many are complaining that those savings would come at the cost of disabled people who rely on Social Security payments to get by, and it’s still only a drop in the bucket compared to overall spending.
The rules mean that once approved for disability benefits, both adults and children would be subjected to continuing disability reviews by Social Security staff. They would be required to submit medical and income records as proof of disability severe enough to prevent meaningful work, proof of assets, and evidence of living arrangements. With this information, Social Security staff would assess each claim more frequently to decide whether the claimant still qualifies for Social Security.
The proposal shows that frequency of required checks depends on which category for Social Security they are in. There are three categories, as follows:
- Those who have a condition that is expected to improve. (For example, premature babies.) Review is required every six to eighteen months.
- Those with terminal or debilitating conditions are in the category that states that medical improvement is not expected. This review happens every five to seven years.
- Those for whom medical improvement possible will be reviewed every three years.
There have been proposals about a fourth category, which states that those who are likely to see medical improvement should be reviewed every two years. Children are included in this review, with assessments taking place at aged six and aged 12.
The Strictest Standards Worldwide
Part of the controversy over these suggested reductions stems from the fact that the US already has some of the strictest standards for receiving disability benefits worldwide.
Recipients, who may have limited mobility due to their disabilities, are already required to go through an arduous process to submit a claim, become approved, and continue providing proof of disability. This process alone can take two years or more to complete, and many find it extremely difficult to complete without the help of an experienced Social Security disability attorney.
What Happens Next?
The proposals for Social Security cuts are still a long way from being approved. For those who may be worried about fallout from the potential new regulations, it’s important to remember that changes to Social Security must be approved by Congress, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon as there isn’t currently a significant political majority.
Cuts are also less likely to be implemented this year due to the ongoing re-election campaign; Trump and the administration know that now is a bad time to shake things up in a way that might turn voters against them, so large cuts may be put off until after the election at the end of this year.