Social Security Administration Preparing Disability Rule Change

Posted December 11, 2020 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Over the weekend, the Social Security Administration (SSA) sent the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a proposal that — if similar to a version leaked earlier this year — will bar Social Security benefits from hundreds of thousands of Americans. The document that leaked suggests the proposal could ultimately prevent as many as 500,000 Americans from receiving benefits. Whether SSA can slip this through the regulatory process before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration may depend on whether SSA and OMB respect the formal regulatory process.

If implemented, the regulation could be undone by the Biden administration or overruled by Congress.

SSA’s proposal, as described in press reports, would make it harder for older workers to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. By law (versus regulation), SSA is required to consider age, education and work experience when determining whether a person meets the statutory definition of disability.

That is, reflecting congressional intent, the current rules acknowledge that older workers (for example, workers in their 50s) will have more difficulty in adjusting to occupational requirements in the national economy following the onset of a serious disability. SSA’s proposed new regulation would likely undo these rules to a large extent, making it harder for older workers to qualify.

The effort will likely center on the buzzword “modernization.” The agency will suggest that the “modern” economy provides many jobs that even a displaced and disabled older worker can do.

However, the widespread health problems among SSDI and SSI applicants lead to very limited participation in the modern economy. About 73 percent of denied applicants have little to no earnings. Labor market success is even less common among those who are awarded SSDI. Further, labor market success, while still uncommon, is more likely among younger SSDI applicants and beneficiaries. Hence the need to take account of older age as reflected in the law and current SSDI rules.

The proposal would also exacerbate inequality in the United States along the lines of race and income. More than 25 percent of denied Social Security disability applicants are Black, a percentage that far exceeds the percentage of African Americans in the overall working age population. Additionally, nearly 40 percent of denied applicants live in poverty. SSA’s proposal to get more denials seems out of touch with regard to many of the serious problems facing the country.

The incoming Biden administration will need to review “last minute” regulations developed at SSA. More generally, it will need to help SSA do a better job managing its programs. The agency needs to get back to solving real-world problems rather than inventing issues to justify harsh policy changes.

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Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®