Is the Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits Program Running Out of Money?

Sep 29, 2019 | Legal

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No, and the disabled need legal advocates more than ever.


If you’re an attorney handling Social Security Disability Insurance cases, you may know October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

It’s when the U.S. Dept. of Labor recognizes the contributions of disabled workers and educates the public about them.

The origins of NDEAM date back to World War II, when troops with disabilities returned home.

To help service members re-integrate, Congress designated the first week of October as, “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.”

Introducing Social Security Disability Insurance

Over the next several years, government officials would introduce other initiatives encouraging employers to hire disabled Americans.

These efforts proved somewhat successful. However, many disabled people struggled to meet their basic financial needs.

To address this problem, Congress created the SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs in 1956.

Amendments introduced two years later extended the benefits to dependents of disabled workers.

Meanwhile, awareness was spreading that disabilities come in many different forms; and in 1962, the organizers of National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week dropped “physically” from the name.

Who collects Social Security Disability Insurance?

Today, someone is considered disabled by the Social Security Administration if they cannot perform “substantial” work due to a medical condition expected to last at least a year, or that will result in their death.

Critics of SSDI say the program is in deep trouble.

In March, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, released a report, 16 Reforms to Improve the Solvency and Integrity of Social Security Disability Insurance. It began with this blunt assessment:  “The SSDI program is functionally and financially broken.”

Calls for SSDI reform

At first, Social Security Disability Insurance cost taxpayers 0.5% of their paychecks, according to the report.

That amount has more than tripled to 1.8% and it cannot fully fund the program. As a result, over the past three years, Congress has re-allocated $150 billion from Social Security retirement to SSDI.

The report identifies several issues, including:

  • Wait times approaching 600 days
  • Benefit denials for individuals with readily apparent disabilities
  • Nearly 50% of benefits awarded for non-medical factors
  • Program fraud and abuse

It recommends placing an emphasis on poverty prevention, recovery over dependence, and system integrity, all to preserve benefits for those who truly need them.

Other viewpoints on SSDI

Meanwhile, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR), an industry trade association of non-attorney and attorney advocates, believes Social Security program stability should become a national priority.

“By keeping this program strong for people who have paid into the system, it prevents serious burdens such as homelessness brought on by foreclosures, evictions and bankruptcies,” the NOSSCR website states.

Social Security, it says, “is vital to the economic security of American workers and their families.”

NOSSCR supports re-allocating payroll taxes to the disability trust fund to reduce the shortfall.

Once that’s done, the association feels the next step is improving the disability determination and adjudication process to maintain the fund for current and future generations.

Is time running out?

In a recent article, Barron’s notes that Social Security benefits will exceed the program’s costs beginning in 2020.

The author further estimates the $2.9 trillion reserve fund will run out in 2035 – one year later than projected by the authors of the Heritage Foundation report.

Meanwhile, several organizations are urging lawmakers to strengthen the SSDI program. It is currently relied upon by 8.7 million disabled Americans and their families.

According to the SSA, one in four people who are 20 years old today will become disabled by the time they turn 67.

Attorneys are needed

NOSSCR notes that two-thirds of initial SSDI claims are denied.

As long as this holds true, they say, advocates perform a valuable service representing consumers navigating this complex system.

The first thing the association advises a claimant to do if their initial application is denied, is to file an appeal.

About 50% of those who go to a hearing win their appeal.

Close to 90% have representation at their hearing.

There are people right now typing away on their computer keyboards and tapping their phone screens, hoping to find an attorney who can help them obtain SSDI benefits.

If you are interested in growing your Social Security Disability Insurance practice, LeadingResponse can help you attract new clients and build your practice. Contact us to learn more.

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