The Trump administration has been trying for four years to find crafty ways to deprive workers of their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Recent reporting indicates that the administration is still at it – even in the waning days of Trump’s presidency. This week, The Hill reported:
“The Social Security Administration (SSA) sent the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a proposal that — if similar to a version leaked earlier this year — will bar Social Security benefits from hundreds of thousands of Americans. The document that leaked suggests the proposal could ultimately prevent as many as 500,000 Americans from receiving benefits.” – The Hill, 12/7/20
Simply put, the proposal would make it harder for older workers to qualify for SSDI benefits. Under current law, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must consider an applicant’s age in determining whether that worker “meets the statutory definition of disability.” The Trump administration’s proposal would diminish age as an eligibility factor for receiving benefits.
“The proposed rule would no longer assume age seriously affects a person’s ability to adapt to simple, entry-level work. It would raise the age at which education and work experience are considered in determining eligibility to 55, from 50.” – Wall Street Journal, 1/10/20
The assumption behind the proposal is: in an increasingly service-oriented economy where people are living longer, middle-aged workers should be able to find new jobs compatible with their disabilities. But, as disability advocates have pointed out, “improvements in average health and life expectancy vary sharply by socioeconomic group and education level.” The proposal, then, would punish disabled workers on the lower rungs of the ladder by denying them disability benefits.
The new proposal is the latest in a fusillade of rules from the Trump administration targeting workers with disabilities. Most recently, Trump’s SSA began finalizing two insidious new rules. One rule would replace the administrative law judges (ALJs) who decide disability appeal cases with politically-motivated agency lawyers. ALJ’s are impartial; SSA attorneys may try to deny benefits based on ideology rather than the needs of disabled workers.
The second rule would add a new level of Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs), imposing an unnecessary burden on disabled beneficiaries to prove that they are still eligible — and may cause some to lose their benefits altogether.
The ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), said that these new rules “would weaken the promise of Social Security for Americans struggling with a disability.”
The incoming Biden administration could rescind Trump’s ALJ and CDR rules, which are scheduled to take effect on Dec.16. As for the new proposal that would make it harder for older workers to obtain SSDI benefits, The Hill reports that it could “slip through” the regulatory process unless SSA and the Office of Management and Budget decide to “respect the formal regulatory process.” If the new proposal is enacted, it would then be up to President-elect Biden or Congress to reverse it.