Apr 21, 2015

Nice Idea But It's Not Going To Work

     There's a bill pending before the House Social Security Subcommittee that would require that the Social Security Administration "develop online tools to help beneficiaries assess the impact of earnings on eligibility for and benefit amounts of state and Federal programs." 
     It's a nice idea but I have my doubts that anything developed will be helpful. The problem is that Social Security's work incentives are so incredibly complex that they won't fit easily into an online format. You don't just plug in your earnings for a month to determine the effect upon your benefits. There's far more involved than just how much you earn. Earn $2,000 in the first month you work and there's no effect upon your benefits. Keep working and earn $2,000 a month for twelve months and your benefits probably stop -- and note that I said probably, since there's the separate blind standard, there's the issue of whether it's self-employment which has different standards, there's Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE) and there's the question of whether you're performing a made-work or subsidized employment job. Keep working at that some pay rate for a time before stopping and what happens depends upon how long you were working before you stopped. There's no simple way of explaining it because it's quite complex. See the image above from the Subcommittee summary of the bill to get an idea of the complexity. 
     This isn't a partisan issue. I think that virtually everybody familiar with this subject would agree that we need a much simpler system of work incentives. I think that almost all would agree that even with a much simpler system few Social Security disability benefits recipients will return to work. They're too sick.
     The work incentives have gotten so complex because members of Congress over several decades have believed that there must be some way of returning lots of Social Security disability recipients to work. They haven't bothered to study the incentives that already existed. They just kept adding more. Additional incentives or tweaked incentives or better explanation of incentives -- none of it is going to work. The idea that large numbers of disability benefits recipients can ever be forced or enticed to return to work is a fallacy.


Anonymous said...

Congress fails to understand that the severity standards for disability are so high that most beneficiaries have PERMANENT conditions which are not likely to improve. The system is not designed for temporary impairments. With improvements in therapy and medical treatment, this is even more true today than it was 25 years ago. The fact that so few beneficiaries are able to return to UNACCOMMODATED work shows that the system is actually working.

Anonymous said...

The other issue with this complexity is that the Administration makes errors in processing cases. I have had people file work activity reports that never make it into the file. Then SSA compares against IRS earnings and slams them with an overpayment. Most of the agency's resources seem to be on the disability determination side, but this work-incentive side is just as complex. I have to tell claimants that if they don't go through a WIPA program, don't bother trying to go back to work.

Anonymous said...

We should be able to agree that a large part of the work report process involves the claimant actively reporting wages to SSA. This doesn't happen in many instances and we are then required to contact the employer on their behalf which leads to unreported IRWEs. Timely reporting is one of the mainstays to accurate payments. Will people still be overpaid or not be notified of cessations/overpayments timely? The simple answer is yes, but we are more easily able to find that person not at fault if they report timely.

Anonymous said...

How about something similar to the Annual Earnings Test - reduction in SSDI based on the annual wages earned AND more medical CDR's. Forget TWP, EPE. Could leave IRWE in since it is so rare. Make the rules the same for the blind and the deaf, paraplegics, stage 4 liver cancer patients, schizophrenics. Blind people are not MORE disabled and deserving of MORE special treatment.

Anonymous said...

Love the flow chart.a handy tool for explaining why those on SSDI and SSI should work with a local Center for Independent Living to get the advice and info on what SSA will need to know.

In addition to the SSDI/SSI benefit, many on disability have other assistance programs. The change in income can cause a change to LIHEAP, Food Stamps, Housing allowance, transportation and other assistance like in home health or personal assistants. When weighing the options of RTW it is important to look at the whole picture.

There is no price tage for the dignity RTW brings, the feeling of being part and not on the fringe with people making negative comments on the situation. The reality is that RTW can cause reduction to quality of life as the other programs pull funding. If the RTW is not a success, the program assistance does not snap back, other than SSI/SSDI the person would have to start from scratch with those other programs. Reality is far more complex than just get a job.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I have a question. What reasoning level (as per the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, Appendix C) do you think would be necessary to understand the information in that chart?

I would guess it would be significantly higher than that possessed by many people who are assessed with overpayments. Should an ALJ find such claimants at fault, if their impaired reasoning ability was due to medical condition?

Anonymous said...

" I think that almost all would agree that even with a much simpler system few Social Security disability benefits recipients will return to work. They're too sick."

Not sure where this writer has found that consensus, but it is not from the disability beneficiaries themselves, or the surveys they have filled out funded by Social Security over the years:

Recent national surveys of disability beneficiaries, as consistently reported in Mathematica Policy Research studies, indicate that 40% of Social Security disability beneficiaries are interested in working.

Longitudinal Employment Outcomes for Social Security Disability Beneficiaries with Work Goals and Expectations
Gina Livermore, Presented at the Center for Studying Disability Policy Research Forum, Washington, DC, 2010

Anonymous said...

I encourage those who can return to work to do so. However, being interested in working and being able to sustain competitive work are two different things.

I lean towards agreement with the "they're too sick" comment, based on two telling facts: 1) The percentage who actually return to competitive work are in the low single digits. 2. A sizable percentage of denied disability claimants don't return to work. That's pretty convincing to me that the standards are quite strict, likely to the point of denying plenty of claimants who cannot do substantial work.