Sam Johnson, Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, sent Commissioner Michael Astrue a letter complaining about Astrue's decision to end two programs that assist disability benefits recipients in planning return to work. Apparently, Johnson and Astrue are trading legalistic arguments over the subject. The underlying problem is that Social Security's budget is ridiculously tight and neither program ever demonstrated much than one could reasonably call success.
We needs to understand a couple of things:
- Everything anyone can imagine to encourage disability benefits recipients to return to work has been tried, including tossing many people off disability benefits. None of it has succeeded in returning more than a tiny percentage of people to work.
- The only thing anyone can reasonably do to make even a marginal difference in the rate of return to work is to simplify Social Security's return to work incentives. Over the decades, there has been constant Congressional interest in painlessly cutting the numbers of people drawing disability benefits by enticing disability benefits recipients back to work. Again and again, Congress has passed some new incentive program to go on top of the incentive programs already in place.This has left us with a ridiculous crazy quilt of work incentives that almost no one understands. You don't solve the problem by diverting scarce resources to hiring work incentive specialists. Their existence was a symptom of the problem. You solve the problem by simplifying. If the work incentives can't be explained in two simple sentences, they're too complicated.