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Johnson Statement: Hearing on Encouraging Work Through the Social Security Disability Insurance Program

June 19, 2013

Good morning and welcome to our hearing on encouraging work in the Social Security disability insurance program.  

The disability insurance program provides essential income security to people with disabilities and their families. 

Over the past 40 years, changes in demographics, Federal policy, and the availability of jobs have driven a 300 percent increase in the number of people receiving disability insurance benefits, from 2.7 million to over 10.9 million.  

Within 10 years over 12.4 million beneficiaries will receive $207 billion in benefits, up 53 percent from the $135 billion in benefits paid last year.  

So it should come as no surprise that in their 2013 Annual Report, the Social Security Trustees again warned us that these most vulnerable beneficiaries face a 20 percent across-the-board benefit cut in just three years unless Congress acts.  

Those who depend on this critical benefit are counting on us to act and we will.   In the last three years this Subcommittee has held 10 hearings on the disability program.  

As we work to protect and preserve this vital program, we must also consider how to help those who can and want to work.  

Work contributes to an individual’s well-being.  Work sustains families.  Work drives our economy.   When people aren’t working, we all suffer.  

Unemployment in this country remains unacceptably high at 7.6 percent.  Those with disabilities seeking to get back into the workforce face an even higher unemployment rate of 13.4 percent.  

But the unemployment rate only tells part of the story.  It doesn’t count those who are no longer looking for jobs because they are out of the labor market.

And it doesn’t consider the toll on human dignity as those who may want to work can be trapped by the disability program, since earning a dollar too much could mean losing thousands of dollars in cash benefits.  

While not everyone receiving disability benefits can return to work, experts tell us more people would return to or stay at work if given the right kind of help to do so.  

Surveys show 40 percent of beneficiaries are interested in working, yet only one half of one percent leave the rolls annually due to earnings from work.    

Today we will examine the views of our expert witnesses regarding the impact of the disability program on the economy, efforts by other countries to return individuals to work, and new ways to encourage work. 

We will hear from a front line service provider about the challenges facing those with disabilities trying to stay on the job and the help that enable them to stay at work or get back to work as soon as possible. 

We will also get an update from the Social Security Administration regarding its efforts to help individuals return to work.  

Now, more than ever, how every dollar is spent matters to our country and to our taxpayers.  Programs that don’t achieve positive results must be reformed or must end.  

I have seen first-hand how beneficiaries and employers benefit when the system works.  I visited Walgreens’ distribution center in Waxahachie, Texas.  

There, with the help of the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services, those with disabilities, including former beneficiaries, work side- by-side with other workers doing the same job for the same pay.  

Those who can and want to work should not be sentenced to a lifetime of near poverty with no way out.   We can and we must achieve the results taxpayers expect and those with disabilities deserve.