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The Debate Over Social Security Disability Benefits

If Congress doesn’t act fast, the Social Security disability trust fund will run out of money in 2016. This will result in an automatic 20 percent cut in benefits. This is unacceptable.

One of the main reasons for the impending deficit is that Social Security Administration (SSA) approves disability benefits at extremely high rates for people whose claims were rejected by field offices or state agencies. It seems that administrative judges are rubber stamping approvals in order to decrease the backlog of cases. By improperly approving benefits to those who are not legally entitled to them, the law judges are wasting of scarce resources. Many law judges claim that the rubber stamping is a result of unrealistic case loans being imposed on them by the SSA, but that does not make it right.

Also adding to the deficit is the fact that the SSA often fails to conduct mandatory follow-up reviews to make sure people who have been receiving benefits are still disabled, called continuing disability reviews (CDRs).

Claims for benefits have increased by 25 percent since 2007, pushing the fund that supports the disability program to the brink of insolvency. Citing a surge in baby boomers, SSA officials claim that the approval increase is a result of changing demographics who are more prone to disability.

The disability program has been inundated by benefit claims since the recession. In 2013, 3.2 million people applied for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income, and there is currently a backlog of 1.3 million overdue for CDRs to make sure the recipients still qualify for benefits.

At this time, approximately 11 million disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security disability benefits, which is an increase from 7.6 million a decade ago. The average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is $1,130. If Congress does not provide for additional funding these benefits may be cut by as much as 20 percent to make up for the deficit.

Most Social Security disability claims are initially processed through a network of local SSA field offices and state agencies, usually Disability Determination Services. If your claim is rejected, you can ask the field office or state agency to reconsider. If your claim is rejected again, you have the right to appeal to an administrative law judge.

The hearing process takes more than a year, and SSA estimates there are currently 816,000 hearings pending.

So far this budget year, the vast majority of administrative judges have approved benefits in more than half the cases decided, even though they were reviewing applications that had typically been rejected twice by state agencies.

The House investigation is unclear as to who is ultimately to blame for the deficit. But one thing is clear, the SSA needs to get its act together and make sure 100 percent of the disability benefits are available to those individuals who are truly entitled to them.

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