Fewer Americans are applying for Social Security Disability benefits, partly because of tighter eligibility standards, according to government statistics and studies recently quoted in The New York Times.
What is SSD or SSDI Insurance?
Social Security Disability Insurance, known as SSD or SSDI, is a program for disabled people who have worked and paid into the Social Security system, as well as their surviving disabled spouses and children.
The total number of people applying for disability benefits reached a high point in 2011, with 2.02 million, but it has declined steadily since and fallen sharply in recent years, Social Security Administration statistics show. In 2017, less than 1.5 million people nationwide applied for SSD, the lowest number the administration recorded since 2002, the Times article reported.
Agency statistics also noted that 8.63 million workers received disability benefits in May 2018, down from a peak of 8.96 million in September 2014.
The drop in applicants allows the program to remain solvent for longer. The government had warned in 2016 that SSD funds might be depleted by 2023, but because of the drop in people seeking benefits, the program likely will be financially secure until 2032, the Times reported.
Two of the reasons the Social Security Administration cited for the decline in people seeking benefits were: (a) a stronger economy, resulting in jobs that are less physically demanding and employers willing to consider workers with disabilities; and (b) more baby boomers leaving SSD for access to Medicare and Social Security retirement benefits.
However, scholars and disability advocates pointed out in the Times that applying for SSD has become more arduous in recent years.
After criticism in Congress and media outlets such as 60 Minutes and The Wall Street Journal alleged widespread fraud and abuse of the SSD program, the Social Security Administration underwent several internal changes, such as tightening budgets and closing field offices. The administration also retrained administrative law judges who had high rates of approving SSD appeals, the Times said.
A 2017 study by Manasi Deshpande of the University of Chicago and Yue Li of the State University of New York at Albany found that closing Social Security field offices led to “large and persistent reductions in the number of disability recipients,” hitting hardest those applicants with “moderately severe conditions, low education levels and low pre-application earnings.”
In addition, the odds of a successful appeal after being rejected for benefits fell to 48 percent in 2015, from 69 percent in 2008, the Times reported.
If you have questions about Social Security Disability law, the experienced social security attorneys at Kraft & Associates, P.C., can help. We have successfully handled claims from the initial application state through formal hearings with administrative law judges — and we work on a contingency-fee basis, meaning you don’t pay us unless we recover money for you.