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Measure twice, cut once

June 20th, 2013 · No Comments · Blog, Featured Home Page Post

20130619_SSDI_Hearing_Ways_and_Means

Webcast of Ways and Means Committee Hearing on SSDI and Work

Congress held a hearing on June 19, 2013 on how to improve employment opportunities for people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance payments, and asked yours truly to testify.

Some ideas that have been on the table — to redefine the definition of disability or to cannibalize existing funding to promote new interventions for example — run the risk of making many people who currently get benefits (and who desperately need them) ineligible and greatly increasing the number of people with disabilities living in poverty.

Other troubling suggestions include making employers more responsible for retaining workers with disabilities by requiring them to buy private disability insurance or pay more taxes if employees apply for and receive SSDI.

Such proposals would have an unintended chilling effect on the hiring of individuals with disabilities.

That’s not to say there aren’t ways in America to help many people with disabilities and chronic health conditions remain at work. But to do this, we must take into account the sheer diversity of needs of people with disabilities, as well as understand how systems of health, disability and employment intersect in the real world.

If you don’t want to watch the entire webcast or read my 12-page testimony, here’s five things you really need to know:

  1. Interventions could help many people with disabilities and chronic health conditions remain at work, BUT;
  2. The best time to intervene is long before someone walks through the door of the Social Security office or files a disability application;
  3. Social Security Administration does not have adequate infrastructure or funding to oversee these interventions;
  4. Other programs already exist to support people with disabilities in employment such as vocational rehabilitation and One-Stop Career Centers. Congress should look at improving these programs to better help people with disabilities stay at work.
  5. Remove barriers to work by: 1) improve vocational services available to people with less severe disabilities who are still working; 2) ensure services and supports (e.g. personal care attendants, assistive technology) are available to working individuals with disabilities; AND 3) ensure adequate and affordable health care coverage is available for all people with disabilities.

As always, it’s important to note that the data show most people who apply for benefits are denied, and only about 40 percent of applicants are awarded benefits under the strict Social Security definition of disability, even after all stages of appeal.

We all support the goal of increasing the employment opportunities and outcomes for people with disabilities. But we have to be really careful that the reforms we propose don’t actually make it harder for people to work or jeopardize the vital income support benefits that keep millions of Americans with disabilities from abject poverty and homelessness.

 Lisa Ekman, Director of Federal Policy, Health & Disability Advocates

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