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Getting Things Done: Promoting Opportunity for Individuals with Disabilities

July 02, 2015

At Ways and Means, we confront big challenges—and few are bigger than finding a sustainable solution to the trust fund shortfall in our Disability Insurance (DI) program. But the committee, led by Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX), is up to the task. In the first six months of the year, our members have been doing the work needed to advance a responsible solution that will keep our promise to the DI community.

Here’s the problem. The Disability Insurance trust fund will soon be exhausted. Unless something changes, beneficiaries face a 20 percent across-the-board cut in their benefits, as early as next year. To be sure, it’s not a new problem. In fact, Congress has moved funds between the respective Social Security Trust Funds six times. But that’s just ignoring the problem.

A Big Change

We can’t do that any longer. That’s why at the start of this Congress, Chairman Johnson authored a change to the House Rules that requires Congress to put Social Security on a sounder financial footing. Recognizing a problem is the first step to solving it, so this was no small feat.

A Principled Approach

Since then, the focus has been on reaching consensus on ways to shore up the program. To start, Chairman Johnson put forth a commitment that is based on four principles:

  • Ensure benefits continue to be paid to individuals with disabilities and their family members who rely on them;
  • Prevent a 20 percent across-the-board benefit cut;
  • Make the Disability Insurance program work better; and
  • Promote opportunity for those trying to return to work.

And specific solutions to address the problem fall into three main buckets:

Returning to Work

As we’ve documented, the DI system is incredibly complex—confusing beneficiaries and making it difficult to administer. In fact, in a recent hearing, the Social Security Subcommittee found that overpayments to beneficiaries are due in part to the complexity of the DI program. And this complexity prevents people from going back to work. Simplification of the DI program should be a key goal of reform. By making it easier for people receiving DI benefits to go to work, we can help beneficiaries and taxpayers.

Chairman Johnson has introduced legislation that would help denied applicants find help to get back into the workforce, and help those receiving benefits understand the ramifications of going back to work.

Fighting Fraud and Abuse

It’s no secret that the Social Security disability program can be abused. That means fraudsters are sucking up resources that should be going to those who really need them. And, equally concerning, reports of fraud in the program harm public support for an important program.

In response, Chairman Johnson has introduced a slate of bills designed to crack down on this waste. Whether it’s preventing people from double-dipping on unemployment and disability benefits, or making sure Social Security uses medical evidence from good sources, or giving the government more tools to track down fraud, the focus is on improving the integrity of this important program.

Thinking Differently

One thing we never like to do at Ways and Means is be content with the status quo. Instead, our members try to think outside the box about how to improve government for the people it serves, and our disability insurance program shouldn’t be an exception. That means we need to look at innovative ways to improve opportunity for individuals with disabilities.

A solution that makes sure the DI program is something people can count on requires a lot of hard work, constant engagement with the disability community, and bipartisan cooperation. That’s what the first six months of this Congress have been all about for our Social Security Subcommittee, and we expect legislative action is not far behind.