Just how important is SSDI anyway?

June 21st, 2013 · No Comments · Blog, Featured Home Page Post

Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are really, really important, and here is some data to prove it.

I participated on an Urban Institute panel with Kenneth Apfel, Melissa Favreault, and Gina Livermore that was moderated by Howard Gleckman  to discuss their new brief (link coming soon) about the important role SSDI benefits play in the economic security of people with disabilities. Though this might not come as a surprise to you (it certainly did not to me), these benefits are vital to the people who receive them.

People cannot afford to have their SSDI benefits reduced at all.  Some highlights…

SSDI benefits are modest. In December 2011, monthly SSDI benefits:

  • Averaged $1,399 for men and $1,078 for women
  • BUT more than 1 out of 2 women received $900 or less per month, with 1 in 4 female beneficiaries getting less than $700 a month AND
  • 1 out of 2 men received $1200 or less, with 1 in 4 male beneficiaries getting $850 or less
  • A fifth of all beneficiaries rely on SSDI for nearly all (90% or more) of their family incomes
  • SSDI benefits account for at least half of family income for 71% of unmarried beneficiaries, and for at least nine-tenths of income for 34% of unmarried beneficiaries

DI beneficiaries have much less wealth than other Americans:

  • They are less likely to own homes and have much lower home equity when they do.
  • Have very little savings. 1 in 2 beneficiaries ages 31 to 49 hold less than $750 in non-housing wealth. This leaves no money for emergencies (car breaks down, roof needs repairs, unexpected co-pays) and virtually no opportunity to invest in the future.

They are also poor, or near poor at twice the rate of non-beneficiaries:

  • Nearly 1 in 3 SSDI beneficiaries between 31 to 49 have income below the poverty line
  • Another  13% of DI beneficiaries ages 31 to 49 have family incomes below the poverty level
  • Another 13% have incomes between 100% and 125 percent of the poverty level

In fact, the longer someone receives benefits, the poorer they get. Forty-six percent of adults ages 31 to 49 and 20 percent of those ages 60 to 64 who have received benefits for five years or more live in or near poverty

As a result, people who receive benefits have trouble paying for basic needs. They are:

  • About twice as likely as non-beneficiaries to report that they cannot meet essential expenses such as being unable to afford to see a doctor or dentist, having trouble with utility bills, or having trouble with rent or mortgage payments.
  • About three times more likely to report food insecurity (defined as not having enough to eat sometimes or often) than those not receiving SSDI.

So when we say SSDI benefits are vital, we really mean it. For many, SSDI benefits are the one thing that stands between people with disabilities and homelessness, hunger and despair.

When people and policymakers talk flippantly about reforming SSDI or cutting Social Security, they should keep the real people represented by the statistics in this new brief in mind. Many people with disabilities are already living on the edge and scraping by – any reductions in these benefits could just push them over it.

Lisa Ekman, Health & Disability Advocates


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