Sen. Cotton, Rep. Hill: The Social Security Disability Insurance Return to Work Act

Last month marked the 81st anniversary of the Social Security Act, which established the our current retirement payment system for senior citizens.

Today Social Security serves as a major source of income for millions of retired Americans, but its solvency is threatened by the explosive growth of enrollment in a different Social Security program: Social Security Disability Insurance, a program established to provide for the “totally and permanently disabled” members of our society.

Social Security Disability Insurance is critical to a state like Arkansans, where nearly 300,000 of our state’s population rely on the program.

Last year, Congress passed a temporary bailout that provided five additional years of funding to the program, but that failed to include substantive reform. Congress must act to make real reforms to Social Security Disability to ensure the program helps the temporarily disabled return to work and remains viable for future generations.

First it’s important to understand how we arrived at this problem in the first place. Social Security Disability Insurance is funded through the payroll taxes of American workers. When the program was established in 1980, it cost about $25 billion annually. But in 1984, Congress made changes to Social Security Disability Insurance that made it easier to qualify for the program.

The problem? There was no mechanism put in place to help those who are able to recover return to work and transition off the program. As a result, enrollment in Social Security Insurance grew exponentially and payments to beneficiaries now far exceeded the amount of money coming into the program—today Social Security Disability Insurance costs a staggering $140 billion annually.

Many Arkansans who receive Social Security Disability Insurance are truly permanently disabled and we are committed to protecting those individuals. But we also know many on Social Security Disability are able to recover.

A January 2015 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service noted the employment rate among working-age individuals with work-limiting disabilities has fallen from 24.4 percent in 1981 to 14.4 percent in 2013In July of this year, nearly 9 million working-age Americans received disability payments, compared to just over 5 million in 2001, and most of these beneficiaries are unlikely to ever return to work.

Reports of fraud, abuse, and overpayments also continue to plague Social Security Disability, further straining the program and  costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Last year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the program incorrectly paid beneficiaries $11 billion over the past 9 years and the Office of Management and Budget designated SSDI as one of 16 “high-error” government programs for improper payments. Massive fraud conspiracies in New York, and West Virginia,  also illustrate the need for reforms and additional oversight.

We must preserve this program for the Arkansans who truly need it, while getting rid of the fraud and helping those who can recover return to work. That’s why we’ve introduced the Social Security Disability Insurance Return to Work Act.

This bill brings much needed  reforms to Social Security Disability Insurance by creating a timeline for those expected to recover. With a timeline, SSDI can be a temporary reprieve and a tool to return to the workforce.

Our bill also reinvests some of the savings of these reforms into continuing disability reviews (CDRs). CDRs are used to root out fraud.

The Social Security Administration estimates that every dollar spent on CDRs reduces future benefits by approximately $10, ultimately saving billions of taxpayer dollars.

Currently, a massive backlog at the Social Security Administration has made it difficult to review each disability case carefully. Allocating additional funds to CDRs will help resolve this backlog and benefit the oversight and management of disability enrollment.

Some believe believe the solution to the problem is throwing additional money into the Social Security Disability Insurance Program. But that’s only a temporary fix. Without real reforms to Social Security Disability, we will find ourselves in the same situation in just a few years. We cannot continue to kick the can down the road for our children to deal with—we must confront the issue now.

Every day that we do not act to preserve the future of Social Security our options to address the pressing issues facing the program shrink.

Congress should take action to help those who are able to recover return to work and to ensure our most vulnerable population continues to receive the care and benefits they need.

Republican French Hill represents the 2nd District of Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republican Tom Cotton represents Arkansas in the United States Senate.

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