While many in the media are consumed with presidential politics, national scandals and foreign crises, the tide has been slowly rising on a serious concern closer to home — at least for older and disabled Americans. A threat far more immediate and severe consequences looms, if Congress does not act. The Social Security Trustees say the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Trust Fund, on which millions of Americans depend daily, will be insolvent by late 2016.
Yes, we are all concerned for Greece and the European Union, varied presidential declarations and intriguing silences, but our own members of Congress, Rep. McSally and Sens. Flake and McCain, should distinguish the important from the urgent — and fixing the Disability Insurance Trust Fund has become urgent.
Why? Because if Congress does nothing in this session, there will be a 20 percent across-the-board cut in disability benefits in less than 18 months. This means that more than nine million Americans currently onSSDI benefits would lose them. As of now (July 2015) Congress still has a “window of opportunity” to take meaningful action and a chance to put this program on more stable financial footing.
How? Many on the Left have advocated for a reallocation of payroll taxes from retirement fund (OASI) to the disability fund (SSDI) — which might offer a temporary (and plainly political) patch for SSDI. But this is an unsatisfactory answer. If not chicanery, as this just “kicks the can” down the road — and not far.
There is an answer. Groups that represent seniors, notably led by AMAC (the Association of Mature American Citizens) have taken on this issue and offer specific advice. We should ask Congress to follow it. The nub: Address structural vulnerabilities in the program.
Specifics? Aggressively end today’s endemic “waste, fraud and abuse” in this entitlement program freeing resources for the truly deserving. Beyond enforcement of anti-fraud laws, press a “whistleblower” program. If someone notifies the Social Security Administration that a person claiming “disability” is abusing the system that “whistleblower” receives two years of disability payments that would have gone to the abuser, ending the abuser’s draw on the system and triggering deterrence. This reflects similar statutes, such as qui tam and the private attorney general statues, private awards for ending public abuse.
More comprehensively, Congress should insist that the Administration revisit the entire determination process for disabilities, methodically modernizing the SSDImedical-vocational “grid” rules to reflect technological advancements, physical condition tracking and modern rehabilitation. This is not as absurd as it sounds. Congress should first, create new disability categories — such as partial and temporary — to cover workers not “totally and permanently disabled,” quickly reducing aggregate numbers on long-term dependence. Then, provide support services that match those with identical disabilities returning set of current beneficiaries to productive work.
Are we ready for these reforms? Yes, we have to be. Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX) for example, has signaled that Congress is looking at SSDI seriously — not a moment too soon. He offered guiding principles. Our representatives should consider and follow them and correct this program — now.
J Patrick Gromek is a Delegate for AMAC 2nd District of Arizona