Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries who recover should be on a pathway to return fully to the workforce, as soon as they are able. A new bill in Congress would pave the way for them to do so.
This month, Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., introduced the Social Security Disability Insurance Return to Work Act of 2017 (H.R.1540) in the House of Representatives. Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; introduced the companion bill (S. 654) in the Senate. The previous Congress first introduced the bill.
The approach is compassionate and straightforward. Individuals who qualify for disability insurance with temporary conditions that are expected to improve with time and treatment would receive a needs-based benefit for a limited time, coupled with incentives to help them smoothly transition back to the labor force.
Such a time-limited benefit is long overdue. The current permanent benefit structure serves neither individuals with disabilities nor taxpayers well. By encouraging individuals to stay on the disability rolls longer than necessary, the benefit fosters dependence on government.
Previous attempts to encourage individuals to return to the labor force, like the Ticket to Work program, have been largely ineffective. A new approach is needed, and the Return to Work Act moves in the right direction.
Broader reforms are also necessary to address the problems facing the program. This includes improving the Social Security Disability Insurance application and adjudication processes for better consistency and timeliness of benefit decision, and shifting from a sole focus on benefit provision to one that seriously considers individual abilities and potential accommodations that can help to keep workers in their jobs.
Greater availability of short-term, targeted benefits from the private sector could help both workers with disabilities and taxpayers.
The Social Security Disability Insurance Return to Work Act sets the firm expectation that individuals with temporary or marginal conditions who are expected to, or likely to, improve will return to work. It also allows them to re-enter the workforce before their benefits expire, enabling a smooth transition out of the program.
Congress should seriously consider this proposal. It promises to be a win-win for beneficiaries and taxpayers, by providing benefits when they are needed without encouraging permanent dependency.
Congress should act soon to improve the Social Security Disability Insurance program for its beneficiaries and taxpayers. It is imprudent to wait until a crisis demands drastic action when the program’s trust fund will be exhausted again in just six short years.
To learn more about our work on Social Security Disability Insurance, see: