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The future of SSDI and how to insure its solvency

We often hear characterizations of the Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) program that make it sound as if obtaining benefits were somehow a lucky break, like winning the lottery. Some have suggested recently that growth in the program is due to unemployment benefits expiring for some and that they revert to SSDI benefits as a fallback position. We find it difficult to that suggestion seriously.

The implication is that there are jobs available and that these individuals are capable of successfully being hired, but that they would rather sit back and receive SSDI benefits.

The Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration (SSA), Steve Goss, supplied testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security in early December. This testimony addresses some of these issues and discusses how the program can be made solvent far into the future.

He explains how SSDI is unlike other types of insurance and is the “most difficult” type to administer, because there is a complex process behind every determination of benefits. It is not a simple “has the individual reached the correct age to receive benefits?” as with the old age program.

The awarding of SSDI benefits is a subjective process that requires multiple types and pieces of evidence. And they will be different for every applicant, because each individual has a unique educational background, work and medical history. Yet the process has to weigh all of the diverse evidence and decide if someone is “disabled” within the meaning of program.

This means the process is far more complex and fraught with problems and difficulties.

Source: House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Social Security, “Securing the Future of the Social Security Disability Insurance Program,” Testimony by Steve Goss, Chief Actuary, Social Security Administration, December 2, 2012

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