The Social Security Disability Insurance program was initiated in 1956. However, as one can easily imagine, much has changed about the world of work since that time.  As noted in “Supporting Work” by the Center for American Progress, at the time of its inception, disability and the ability to work were mutually exclusive.1

This idea is still advanced by the Social Security rules and regulations, as a finding of “disabled” will only be entered for those who are totally disabled – there is no partial disability.

SSDI does not account for the changes in the way we work, technology, or the way enterprises do business; and this limits people from obtaining economic self-sufficiency.

Discouraging Employment

SSDI in its current iteration has been noted to discourage employment. As described above, an individual cannot obtain SSDI before leaving the work force. This prevents the individual from working to their ability and often eliminates affordable access to healthcare. With the inception of the Affordable Care Act, health insurance can be more attainable; but without any source of income, even subsidized health care can be out of reach. “This potentially creates a catch-22 for workers who develop health limitations that are significant but not necessarily career-ending: it may be difficult or infeasible for them to remain employed and economically self-sufficient absent disability assistance, but it is not possible for them under the current SSDI program to obtain this assistance without first leaving the labor force.”2

Getting Medical Benefits

Once in receipt of disability benefits, these individuals also can be eligible for medical care. Once an individual receives medical treatment, they may find their prospects and abilities have improved. Perhaps they would be able to work on a part-time basis or with accommodations.  As noted in a recent survey, most individuals with disabilities want to be able to get back to work and be independent.3 However, under the current system, if this individual attempts to work, they risk losing all medical and financial support. A 2014 editorial by the president of RespectAbilityUSA.org, encourages the implementation of procedures to allow individuals to quickly get back on SSDI or SSI if they test their ability to work, but ultimately fail.4

She also points out that the current SSI program is at odds with “two basic American values – hard work and savings – and promotes isolation and poverty.”5  This is because in order to qualify for financial and medical benefits on SSI, individuals cannot have more than $2,000 in liquid assets. An individual who attempts to work, or starts to gain a level of self-sufficiency after receiving some assistance from SSI, could quickly make themselves ineligible — and back to having no support system. Without access to medical care or any other funds, their independence and efforts to work can quickly fail.

The current system of disability insurance benefits is well-intentioned, but needs revisions to match the needs and desires of persons with disabilities.  Allowing for temporary or partial support based on abilities will encourage those people to work and gain independence.


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About Citizens Disability, LLC:

Since 2010, Citizens Disability has been America’s premier Social Security Disability institution. Our services include helping people in applying for SSDI benefits, managing the process through Reconsideration, and representing people in person at their Hearing, and if necessary, bringing their case to the Appeals Council. Our mission is to give a voice to the millions of Americans who are disabled and unable to work, helping them receive the Social Security Disability benefits to which they may be entitled. Learn more about us and disability benefits like SSDI & SSI or give us a call (800)492-3260.

[1] David Autor & Mark Duggan, “Supporting Work: A Proposal for Modernizing the U.S. Disability Insurance System,” Center for American Progress, Dec. 2010, Available at http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/  2010/12/disability-insurance-autor/12_disability_insurance_autor.pdf.

[2] Id. at p. 10.

[3] http://respectabilityusa.com/respectabilityusa-releases-toolkit-for-job-seekers-with-disabilities/

[4] Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, “Modernize Disability Benefits So People with Disabilities Can Work,” The Blog, HuffingtonPost.com, September 25, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-laszlo-mizrahi/modernize-disability-benefits_b_5882402.html.

[5] Id.