Kokua Line: Advocates for disabled sound alarm over proposed changes to Social Security
Changes are proposed, but not final, and yes, there is something you can do, including objecting on the federal docket.
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Question: Please find out what is going on with Social Security disability. Are they really changing it? My disabled son lives on this; he can’t survive without it. I am having trouble finding information. Is there anything we can do?
Answer: Changes are proposed, but not final, and yes, there is something you can do, including objecting on the federal docket; the public comment period has been extended to Jan. 31. Advocates for the disabled also urged people to contact their congressional delegation about proposed rule changes that could potentially affect thousands of people in Hawaii.
The U.S. Social Security Administration oversees two programs for people who are too mentally or physically disabled to work. The first, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), is for people who become disabled after they’ve worked for years and paid Social Security taxes that fund the program. The second, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), is for low-income people who didn’t work, such as those born with permanent disabilities. It is paid from general funds.
Gaining benefits isn’t easy — fewer than 4 in 10 people who apply are approved, even after appeals — and eligibility is periodically reassessed, through a process called “continuing disability review” (CDR).
The timing of these reviews ranges from every six months to seven years, depending on which of three categories the disabled person is assigned — medical improvement expected (MIE), medical improvement possible (MIP), and medical improvement not expected (MINE). For example, eligibility for a person who has a kidney transplant to treat chronic kidney disease generally is reviewed every six to 18 months (MIE); for schizophrenia, it’s every three years (MIP); and for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), it’s every five to seven years (MINE), according to the Social Security Administration.
Now, in its proposal to revise “Rules Regarding the Frequency and Notice of Continuing Disability Reviews” (808ne.ws/disrule), the SSA wants to, among other things, add a fourth category, medical improvement likely (MIL), and review every two years the eligibility of disabled people it assigns there.
The administration says it wants to identify medical improvement at its earliest point and expects “positive employment effects” if more disability benefits are terminated, “although we cannot currently quantify them.”
Advocates for the disabled decry the proposal as unsound, saying there’s no evidence to support increasing the frequency of the bureaucratic review process. People would lose benefits not because their health had improved, but because they couldn’t handle the paperwork, they predicted.
They also see Social Security’s most vulnerable beneficiaries as canaries in the coal mine.
“This is an attack on all of our earned Social Security benefits. I encourage everyone to submit comments by Jan. 31 opposing the rule change. I also highly recommend calling your members of Congress and asking them to speak out opposing this cruel plan,” said Nancy Altman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Social Security Works. “When Ronald Reagan pushed through a similar policy in the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Americans were wrongfully stripped of their earned benefits. Thousands of them died. Reagan was ultimately forced to revoke the policy after a massive outcry from the public and from Congress. Let’s learn the lessons of history and make sure that this time, the public outcry happens before the policy can go into effect, so no one wrongfully loses their hard-earned benefits.”
>> Online at 808ne.ws/ discom. Or go to regula tions.gov and search for Docket No. SSA-2018-0026.
>> By fax to (410) 966-2830.
>> By mail to Office of Regulations and Reports Clearance, Social Security Administration, 3100 West High Rise Building, 6401 Security Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21235-6401.
Social Security paid disability benefits to 21,813 Hawaii workers in 2017, who received a typical annual benefit of $13,752, or $1,146 a month, according to Social Security Works, 808ne.ws/sshi. Nearly 13,000 Hawaii children also received disability benefits that year. It is not clear how many of those people would be affected by the new rules, if they are approved.
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