As we’ve discussed before, the Social Security Administration’s disability program is currently facing an uncertain future. That’s because agency estimates show that the trust fund from which disability benefits are drawn will likely run out of funds during the latter half of 2016.
While this doesn’t mean that the disability benefits will potentially stop altogether, it does mean that unless Congress can find a viable solution, a benefits cut of 19 percent would be automatically instituted, such that many disabled Americans would see a considerable dip in their monthly benefits.
Interestingly, political experts indicate that even though this funding deficit and accompanying benefits cut could likely be averted by redirecting payroll tax revenue from the SSA’s trust fund for the retirement program — something that has been done in the past — there is no guarantee that this will happen.
That’s because congressional Republicans and Democrats have been sparring over whether to take this step or use the impending shortfall as an opportunity to enact change to a disability program that many have argued is in need of reform.
The debate likely isn’t going to get any easier in the coming months following the recent release of a report by the Office of the Inspector General, which found that the SSA overpaid nearly $17 billion in disability benefits over the last decade. Here, the IG found that many payments went to those no longer considered disabled, those earning too much money to qualify for disability, those in prison and those who are deceased.
While the report did indicate that the SSA was able to recover close to $8.1 billion of these funds, it also stated that this nevertheless took many years and recommended that more needs to be done “to prevent the most common overpayments.”
As you might imagine, the report generated considerable outrage on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers were critical of the SSA.
“Every dollar that goes to overpayments doesn’t help someone in need,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. “Given the present financial situation of the Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund, the program cannot sustain billions of dollars lost to waste.”
It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, are in store for our nation’s SSDI program, which paid out $142 billion in disability benefits to roughly 15 million people last year.