Posted on 02 April 2012
By Mark Miller
Applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) have increased in recent years. What does this increase imply for the program overall, and particularly for its funding over the long term?
I moderated a panel discussion on the future of SSDI today, sponsored by the National Academy of Social Insurance. The forum, held at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C. , was carried live by CSPAN; video can be viewed here.
The Social Security Disability Insurance program currently provides income support to more than nine million people with disabilities and their family members — more than $9.5 billion in monthly benefits.
The number of people receiving benefits has increased significantly over the past several decades. Six-point-five million people received benefits as recently as 2005, and in 1995 the number was only 4.2 million. The Disability Insurance Trust Fund is projected to be exhausted in the near future – as soon as 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Journalists, researchers and Congress have focused a great deal of attention on the growth in the number of SSDI beneficiaries. A number of questions have been raised about the program:
- Does the growth reflect demographic trends and changes? Or is the growth due to SSDI program rules and policies?
- What is the role of the recession in the growth of SSDI? Is SSDI becoming the new unemployment insurance?
- Is SSDI fundamentally sound and sustainable in its current form? Or does it need changes to ensure its long-term viability? Can these changes be small or does long-term solvency require radical change?
- Does SSDI discourage work? Could more be done to encourage people to stay at work when they become disabled? Or, could more be done to encourage beneficiaries to return to work after receiving SSDI benefits?
Panelists discussed a variety of reform ideas. The speakers included Steve Goss, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, Lisa Ekman, senior policy advisor at Health and Disability Advocates, and Dave Stapleton, director of the Center for Studying Disability Policy at Mathematica Policy Research.