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Economist says SSA disability not ‘out of control’

Although there has been plenty of hand-wringing in recent years about the state of the Social Security Administration’s disability program, Chad Stone chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote on U.S. News and World Report that issues at hand can be quite manageable.

Stone said disability benefits are “vital” to workers who can no longer support themselves or their family due to injury or impairment. He said most of the growth has reflected the growing demographic of workers ages 50 to 64 where the risk of disability is at its highest.

“Disability insurance benefits also  remain hard to get, even in recessions, including the recent Great Recession,” Stone said. “While claims rose sharply, the number of approved claims rose much less. In other words, standards for approving benefits remained strict and a much higher share of applications were rejected.”

Stone said if policymakers don’t lose their head on this issue, it should be resolved simply by adjusting the balance of payroll taxes, which has been done in the past without controversy. A temporary increase in the share of payroll taxes going to disability insurance could help keep this program running until 2033, he said. This may be necessary to avoid a huge cut in benefits for the 9 million Americans receiving SSA disability benefits.

There is no doubt that the SSA is tightening their standards with regard to denying cases. Often, meritorious cases are denied by the more conservative judges. Additionally, the ALJ’s are routinely granting only “partially favorable” decisions in an apparent effort to “save” the SSA from paying back benefits to claimants.

In order to prevail in their case, it is imperative that claimants treat their conditions and secure all available medical evidence supportive of their disability claim.