House Ways and Means Committee Hearing on Social Security
On July 9, 2015, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing entitled “Promoting Work Opportunities for SSDI Beneficiaries.” A number of witnesses were present, including representatives from the U.S. Business Leadership Network, Virginia Commonwealth University, the Vermont Agency of Human Services, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Disability Network.
House Representatives discussed the complexity of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) rules and both Democrats and Republicans agreed that the issue of a “cash cliff,” whereby SSDI beneficiaries in the Extended Period of Eligibility continue to receive full benefits while performing below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level but lose all benefits when their earnings reach SGA, needs to be rectified. Exactly how to do so, however, was a point of contention among those present.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the Committee Chair, proposed a benefit offset program as a work incentive tool, whereby SSDI beneficiaries would see a $1 reduction for every $2 in a earnings. A number of Democrats, including Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI), questioned the efficacy of such a program in terms of its overall cost and exactly who would benefit. They also expressed the importance of adequate funding for the Social Security Administration (SSA) so that it can effectively carry out its other work incentive measures.
Paul Van der Water of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities testified that although many SSDI beneficiaries don’t work, health and age – rather than a lack of work incentive – were more common reasons for their unemployment. He also noted that SSDI’s strict definition of “disability” is based on an inability to work, so unemployment among SSDI beneficiaries is not surprising.
The hearing did not result in any new legislation. It remains to be seen whether efforts to shore up the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund will include any policy changes regarding work incentive measures.