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Does Congress really want to help disabled workers?

One of the complaints made against the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is that it does not do enough to help those who are able to return to work. This is somewhat of a disingenuous assertion, because SSDI requires application to have been out of work for 12 months and for the medical condition or illness that has caused their disability to be unlikely to improve.

The program does have, however, some elements that facilitate a return to work for those who are able. For instance, it does allow beneficiaries to earn up to $1,090 per month by working before their SSDI benefits are reduced or lost. 

There is also the Ticket to Work program that allows disabled workers to “test the waters” by working without risking a loss of their benefits.

For beneficiaries who do return to work, but then are laid off, unemployment insurance programs provide additional help to replace that missing income from their job. Some in Congress want to eliminate the right to receive those unemployment benefits, accusing those individuals of “double dipping.”

Given that the average 2015 SSDI benefit payment is only $1,165, receipt of temporary unemployment insurance is unlikely to make these individual feel as if they won the lottery. Let’s remember, they were working and lost their job, and just like any other worker they are entitled to unemployment.

It is not a significant problem, as only 1 percent of disability recipients were receiving SSDI and unemployment and one study found that the average combined benefit was only $1,100 per month for these disabled workers.

If Congress really wants to help keep these workers in the job force, they need to do more to ensure they have the skills the labor market need and can find stable jobs to avoid the need for unemployment insurance,  rather than simply cutting them off and making their existence more difficult.

Americanprogress.com, “Cutting Social Security Disability Insurance Won’t Help Anyone Go Back to Work,” Rebecca Vallas, April 14, 2015

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