The Trump Administration’s Proposed Changes To Disability Benefits Will Hurt the Disabled According To Advocates

Supermajority Education Fund

January 14, 2020

Disability rights advocates say a recent Trump Administration proposal will cause thousands of qualified recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to lose benefits.

The proposed regulation would increase the frequency of how often disability insurance recipients are reviewed to determine if they still qualify as “disabled” and can continue to receive benefits. While recipients are reviewed every few years under the current program, the Trump Administration’s proposal would increase reviews to occur several times a year. “The revised changes would ensure that we continue to maintain appropriate stewardship of the disability program and identify medical improvement (MI) at its earliest point,” the agency stated in their announcement of the proposal

More than 8 million Americans receive disability benefits based on past employment and a loss of wage income due to the onset of a severe disability, according to the Huffington Post. Activists say this revision would lead many of those recipients to drop out of the program.

“The barrier of the application process is so high that it screens out many people who should be getting benefits but can’t navigate the red tape to get them,” autistic self-advocate Kathryn Hedges, who has been on SSDI since 2004, told Supermajority News.

While supporters of the rule change say it will cut down on disability fraud, Hedges notes that cases of such fraud are already rare. An increased number of reviews, she added, “are unlikely to recover as much in actual fraud as the program costs.” 

The last day of the public comment period for the rule change is Saturday, Jan. 17, but several Democratic lawmakers involved in the House and Senate committees overseeing Social Security urged the Social Security Administration to extend the period. These lawmakers, led by Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, wrote in a letter to Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul that “under the proposed rule, some individuals subject to review will be simply unable to navigate the process and, as a result, lose their benefits even though there is no medical improvement.”

Those seemingly unnecessary barriers are why the disability community says that any changes to SSDI should center the lived experiences of disabled Americans. “This kind of policy is embedded in a set of beliefs that disabled people are faking and that says we don’t deserve [SSDI],” Lydia X.Z. Brown of Georgetown University’s Institute for Technology Law and Policy, told Supermajority News. “And if we are getting benefits, it’s somehow treated like this special entitlement.”

Brown also stressed that one of the biggest myths about SSDI was that recipients were receiving thousands of dollars a month after qualifying. “It is already very difficult to qualify for SSDI, and then you might have 800 dollars a month,” Brown said, noting that is less than a minimum wage employee would make in a month working a full time, 40-hour workweek. “Just getting that $800 requires you go through a process that is onerous and dehumanizing and, frankly, incredibly condescending.”