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Proposed cuts to SSD punish an already struggling population

President Trump’s proposed budget includes extensive cuts to Social Security Disability (SSD), a safety net that currently helps millions of Americans who live either below or just above the poverty level. This includes workers who, due to a physical or mental disability, can no longer work and depend on SSD and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  Kevin J. Bambury, attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC; and member of the National Association of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), has been assisting claimants in obtaining both SSD and SSI benefits for more than 21 years.  

“This budget addresses SSD and SSI as though it were an entitlement program that is fraught with fraud. When in fact, this is a program workers pay into to insure if they become disabled they will have at least a modest income to support themselves and their families,” Bambury said. “And, according to Government Accountability Office in 2012, the error rate in the SSD program (The GOA does not use the term ‘fraud.) was .06 percent, for a program then serving around nine million people — most corporations would be pretty happy with that error rate.”

NOSSCR, formed in 1979 to provide support and educational programs for attorneys who handle SSD claims, issued a memo citing its objections to the budget proposal.  These include reducing retroactive payments to six months rather than the current 12 before the protected filing date.  This is projected to save an estimated $9.9 billion over the coming 10 years.

“Applying for SSD benefits is a rigorous process which — combined with the current backlog of claims — means our clients typically wait two years for a decision on their benefits,” Bambury said. “During that period they go without income, often losing their homes and delaying or foregoing medical treatment and medications.

“By the time they get that check for retroactive benefits, they are so far behind financially it’s just a drop in the bucket toward meeting their needs.  Cutting that check in half is unconscionable.”

The current backlog of claimants waiting for a decision on benefits is 1.1 million, with wait times of 17 months nationwide, 25 months in the Buffalo area, and 22 months in Rochester.  Many of the budget proposals, such as reinstating the reconsideration stage, creating an “expert” panel to recommend program changes, and putting new Administrative Law Judges on probation for their first year of service, will slow down an already clogged system, according to Bambury.

NOSSCR also objects to proposals to reduce SSD benefits when an individual attempts to work and receives unemployment benefits because it reduces the incentive to work; and to change workers’ compensation laws to save the Disability Insurance Trust funds money, shifting responsibility to workers’ compensation programs which are state-run.

“SSD provides a minimal income,” Bambury said. “And, over the past two years, the program has actually been decreasing.”

January 2016 marked the first time the number of recipients dropped over the previous year since 1988, and in 2017 the number of payees fell from 8.89 million to 8.79 million, which was the lowest level in approximately five years. Estimated savings from the proposed cuts would total $72 billion over the next 10 years.  

“There is no justification in taking basic, modest, yet necessary benefits away from people who have worked and paid into a system with the promise that if they needed them the benefits would be there,” Bambury said.