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DI Reform: Opportunity for Everyone to Meet Their Potential

July 09, 2015

This morning, Ways and Means is holding its first full committee hearing on Social Security in years. The focus is the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program—and how to make it work better. 

We know that DI is facing a significant funding challenge—the program’s trust fund will soon be exhausted and unless Congress acts, a twenty percent cut will hit those receiving benefits. We’ve already made clear that we won’t let that happen, but we’ve also committed to making it easier for people who want a job to get back into the workplace. That’s really what today’s hearing is all about.

Here’s what we know: based on research, 40 percent of Americans receiving disability insurance benefits want to get back to work in some capacity. The problem is two-fold. The system is needlessly complicated and the rules and regulations that someone must follow to report work simply aren’t worth the trouble. And second, for many, the current structure of the DI program actually punishes them for earning more money. Take a look at the chart below.


As you can see, at some point it makes no sense to work and earn any more. Under the current system, if you earn one dollar more than you’re allowed, you lose all your benefits. One dollar gained, for thousands lost. It’s no wonder, then, that fewer than one percent of people receiving DI move off the program as a result of earning more, even though so many want to work. This stark cliff doesn’t serve Americans with disabilities well, and we’re confident that there are ways to reform the structure—in a bipartisan way—to keep our promise to them, while allowing everyone to reach their potential.

Rather than erecting barriers to the workforce, we should be ensuring there are stable pathways to it. That’s what we’re working to build today.