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Social Security Subcommittee hearing

Monday, June 17, 2013  
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On June 19, 2013 the House Ways & Means Social Security Subcommittee held a hearing entitled: "Encouraging Work Through the Social Security Disability Insurance Program." Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX), Ranking Democrat Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Jim Renacci (R-OH), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Tim Griffin (R-AR) and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) participated in the hearing.

Chairman Johnson opened the hearing by stating that we need to help those who can and want to work. Those who want to work can be trapped by the disability programs, he said, adding that experts say more people on disability would work with the proper program supports. Rep. Becerra stressed that Congress must do no harm to those who cannot work, but agreed that Social Security disability benefits should not be a barrier to work. He pointed out that many on SSDI try to work, but can't sustain employment. He added that budget cuts to SSA's administrative budget have curtailed SSA's efforts to help people return to work. He said that, before Congress enacts new programs, it needs to determine whether it is prepared to pay to support them.


Mark G. Duggan, Ph.D., Professor, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania Testimony

Dr. Duggan contended that the growth in the SSDI program is not explained by demographic changes, as the Social Security Trustees Report asserts. Rather, he argues that the "evolution of diagnoses as a result of the liberalization of medical eligibility criteria" that occurred in the mid-1980s accounts for most of the growth in SSDI. He argued for adding a "front end" to the SSDI system to intervene while people are still on the job and to provide an incentive to work.

Mary C. Daly, Ph.D., Group Vice President and Associate Director of Research, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Testimony
Dr. Daly concurred that the growth in SSDI is not explained by demographics. She discussed efforts of Sweden and the Netherlands to control costs in their disability systems. She said that those countries expanded beyond those who can't work, and made a commitment to supporting work. They found that it was harder to move existing beneficiaries back into the workforce, but they had success in focusing on the flow of new beneficiaries into the system, she concluded.

Kevin Ufier, National Director Managed Disability, GENEX Services Testimony
Mr. Ufier said that disability is often a temporary condition. GENEX helps keep people at work or assists in their rapid return to work after a disability. It is comprehensive program administered by the employer and encompassing the employee, medical professionals and a comprehensive system of services and supports.

Lisa D. Ekman, Director of Federal Policy, Health & Disability Advocates, on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force Testimony

Dr. Ekman stressed that services and supports are necessary for return to work. However, she said it is not SSA's job to provide these. SSA's job is to replace income for those who are eligible and cannot work. She said that SSDI is the least generous of any disability benefit in all of the OECD countries except South Korea. She agreed that we need to look at the entire disability support system, but stressed that we can't blame SSDI for the failure of other programs.

James Smith, Budget and Policy Manger, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Vermont Agency of Human Services
Mr. Smith said that current SSDI rules undermine work efforts. He pointed to the cash cliff as a huge disincentive to returning to work. He said his state is involved in a pilot program providing an earnings offset to assure that increased hours worked always translates to increased earnings.

David Weaver, Ph.D., Associate Commissioner, Office of Program Development and Research, accompanied by Robert Williams, Associate Commissioner, Office of Employment Support Programs, Social Security Administration Testimony

Dr. Weaver told the Subcommittee that simplified work rules would help. He said that demonstration authority is key to finding out what works. He asked for the Subcommittee's support for SSA's proposed Youth Transition Demonstration Program. Just before the close of the hearing, Bob Williams, speaking through an assistive device, told the Subcommittee that there are about four million Americans with disabilities who are employed, but most make less than $20,000 annually. The initial question we all need to grapple with, he said, is how do we reward those workers? It is not just about services, it is about creating opportunities for them to get and keep good jobs and careers that can lead to self-supporting futures.


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