End the two-tier disability benefit system

In the period before the introduction of disability benefits, disabled people unable to work were often forced into poverty and considered undeserving of public assistance. The creation of public disability benefits marked a sea change in the government’s treatment of people with disabilities, signaling societal recognition of their right to financial security. But despite these changes, outdated views about the dignity of people with disabilities to receive benefits prevail. The United States currently uses a two-tier system in which those who have worked receive enhanced benefits and those who have not worked “long enough” are left behind. All people with disabilities deserve to live with dignity and financial security. To achieve this, the United States must overcome arbitrary notions of merit and abolish the two-tier system.

The disability benefit system that is in place today was first established by the Social Security Act in 1935. Notably, the Social Security Act created two separate programs for the provision of disability benefits. ‘disability. The main program is established under Title II of the Act and is known as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Eligibility for this federal program requires individuals to meet a set of requirements, including at least 20 quarters of work experience within the last 40 quarters; this made SSDI inaccessible for people born with a disability and those who became disabled before accumulating enough work credits. These people could only receive benefits through Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a much less generous program that provided cash assistance to low-income disabled people who did not meet the work history requirement. This distinction between the SSDI, which is still only available to people with work histories, and the SSI has persisted to the present day, creating substantial difficulties for people with disabilities forced to rely on the SSI.

There are many problems with SSI, all of which can cause significant difficulties for recipients. The first and most glaring is that SSI provides only sub-poverty level income to its beneficiaries. The maximum SSI benefit for an individual in 2022 is $841 per month, or $10,092 per year. In contrast, the federal poverty level for an individual in 2022 is $13,590 per year. As a result, people with work-limiting disabilities who rely entirely on SSI for income are forced into poverty, leaving them with little financial security.

“…it is clear that SSI is a failure as a social insurance program, probably due to the perception that those without a work history are less deserving of public assistance than those with a work history. professionals.”

To compound this reality even further, the rules of the SSI program are designed to make it extremely difficult for recipients to earn additional income. Only people who earn less than $841 per month from any source of income are eligible for the program, and each additional dollar earned of outside “accounting” income reduces the benefits received from SSI by one dollar. SSI also imposes significant restrictions on recipient assets: Assets over $2,000 prevent a person from receiving SSI. These rules force recipients to avoid saving and seek additional sources of income to maintain their benefits, as each additional dollar earned in income is offset by a decrease in benefits. Considering that the SSI benefit is below the federal poverty level, it is clear that the SSI is a failure as a social insurance program, likely due to the perception that those who have no no work history are less deserving of public assistance than those who work. stories.

Resolving immediate issues with SSI is not a difficult task, as the failures of the program are clear. A recent bill proposed by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act, would go a long way to closing the glaring hole in the social safety net that SSI currently represents. The bill proposes to raise the SSI benefit to 100% of the federal poverty level and index it to inflation, raise the asset limit from $2,000 to $10,000, and increase the income that beneficiaries can earn before being subject to benefit reductions. These reforms would dramatically improve the quality of life for Americans with disabilities, and a poll by Data for Progress, a progressive polling firm, finds that these changes, along with the removal of the asset limit, are hugely popular among the American public. Given this survey, it is likely that the lack of political action taken to improve the ISS is less the result of political resistance than the result of inertia and lack of attention. A determined campaign to improve SSIs could therefore bring real benefits to the disabled people who depend on them.

In the long run, however, building a disability insurance system that guarantees the financial security of all people with disabilities requires rethinking the two-tier system that separates those with work experience from those without. This distinction remains rooted in ideas of merit, with those with a work history being considered more deserving than those without. However, there is nothing inherent in a person who becomes disabled after working for an arbitrary period of time that makes them more worthy of dignity and security than a person who is born with a disability or who has developed a disability early in his career. All of these people also deserve the support of society, and our disability insurance system should reflect this fact.

A proposed solution to this problem is given by Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project, who suggests ensuring a minimum SSDI benefit for all persons with disabilities equal to the federal poverty level, regardless of work history, income, or assets. He also proposes to abolish the SSI program entirely. This solution would end the two-tier system, allowing current SSI recipients to be on equal footing with those receiving SSDI. The policy would allow those receiving more than the minimum benefit through SSDI to continue to do so, while providing a minimum level of support for those currently dependent on SSI. It would also significantly reduce the administrative complexity of disability insurance benefit programs, allowing all persons with disabilities to access benefits through a centralized program. Although consolidating these programs may cause some transitional difficulties for government offices, it would greatly improve recipients’ ability to access benefits.

Public provision of disability benefits allows people with work-limiting disabilities to maintain some level of financial security without having to rely on private charity. However, the current system creates two tiers in the benefit process, separating those with a work history from those without and forcing the latter into financial precariousness. Updating and reforming the SSI would bring the United States closer to the ideals embodied, however imperfectly, in the original Social Security law: that all people deserve to live with dignity, whether or not they are able to work.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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