Feb 28, 2013

SSAB Forum

     The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has scheduled a "Forum" for March 8 on "Social Security Disability: Time For Reform." There is some diversity of viewpoint among those scheduled to speak but there's a definite tilt to the program. Here are some of the points of view represented with the names of the speakers representing these points of view in parentheses:
  • Something must be done because a lot more people are drawing Social Security disability benefits now. This is because it's less difficult to get on these disability benefits than when Ronald Reagan was President. (Duggan, Daly, Autor)
  • Too many people draw Social Security disability benefits because the benefits are too generous.(Duggan, Autor)
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it easier for disabled people to work and that should make it less difficult for people to get off Social Security disability benefits. (Claypool, Imparato, Blanck)
  • Social Security is the reason why more disabled people aren't working. (Maestas, Smith, McDonald, Autor, Stapleton)
  • If Social Security gave disabled people more encouragement and assistment, they'd go back to work. (Smith, Davey, McDonald, Mazerski, Autor, Stapleton, Smalligan)
     I'm sure that I'm oversimplifying the views of these people. I'm also sure that each of them in their own way wants to help disabled people. (I will say that David Autor is really full of it and has no business speaking publicly about these issues. He simply doesn't know what he's talking about.) 
     I think it's appropriate to give a shorthand response to each of these expressed views, the sort of responses that are unlikely to be expressed at the SSAB "Forum."
  • It certainly is less difficult for people to get on Social Security disability benefits than when Ronald Reagan was President. However, you have to understand that Social Security disability during the Reagan Administration was an aberration. It was less difficult to get on those benefits before the Reagan Administration and it quickly became less difficult to obtain those benefits as the Reagan Administration wore on and the return to prior practices was even more pronounced after Reagan left office. This was because the changes made during the early part of the Reagan Administration evoked a vigorous political response. The Reagan changes were quickly rolled back. Even though there have been plenty of changes since Reagan left office, it has remained less difficult to get the benefits. Anyone who advocates a return to Reagan era policies is naive. Those policies would evoke the same reaction in 2013 as they did in 1983. The Reagan days were as far from a golden age for Social Security disability policy as you can get.
  • Disability benefits too high? Really? Generally, Social Security disability benefits are less than half what recipients were earning. They're far less in most cases than disability benefits under employer based long term disability plans. 
  • The ADA makes it easier for disabled people to work? The evidence is that the ADA had little effect on the number of disabled people who are employed. In fact, some scholars have argued that the ADA reduced the employment of the disabled!
  • I don't see how one can argue that the availability of Social Security disability benefits discourages people from working when we have clear evidence that only 27% of those who apply for and are denied Social Security disability benefits are working four years later. Being denied benefits isn't enough to get these people back to work even though those who are denied are, on the whole, less disabled than those drawing disability benefits. The evidence is unambiguous that very few of those drawing Social Security disability benefits will return to work even if they are removed from benefits.
  • The illusion that with a little more encouragement disabled people will fly off the disability rolls and back to work has been persistent for decades. This illusion has led to the following work incentives: Trial Work Period, Extended Period of Eligibility, Expedited Reinstatement, Ticket to Work and the Vocational Rehabilitation exception, just to mention the Title II provisions. There's another complicated mess of Title XVI work incentives. None of this is working to any significant extent. If none of this works, why would anyone expect a new work incentive to work? I can think of one good reason why some of the speakers would promote work incentives. Some of them work for Ticket to Work contractors. Not only do they want to keep the contracts their employers have, even though they're a waste of money; they want to get more contracts. Ticket to Work is an unjustifiable waste of money. Any attempt to go further down the rehabilitation road will just waste more money.


Anonymous said...

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may give a worker some legal standing but i know from past experience it will not protect an impaired person fully from an employer's mistreament as some employers can be crafty,slick or nuanced.

Anonymous said...

An ALJ once told me that she believed that any major initiative to take people off of disability or make it significantly harder to obtain disability benefits would not pass because that would, in turn, increase the unemployment rate. People receiving disability are not counted in the unemployment numbers. No politician, she said, wants to have to answer to a growing unemployment rate. This view does make some sense.

Anonymous said...

The tilt of the SSAB program is inherent in it's title. Shouldn't it read "Time for Reform?" rather than declaring that this is the time for reform?