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Budget deal based on misunderstanding of SSDI program

Disability advocates have a fairly keen eye when it comes to gauging public understanding of the Social Security disability program. Unfortunately, journalists covering the topic are not always well informed in their presentation of the program’s challenges and purpose. Given that bias is not uncommon in journalism, this is understandable.

However, it is another thing to see congressional policy that misunderstands the nature of the SSDI program. And yet, that is was seems to have happened in President Obama’s budget deal, which included a provision  that would effectively prevent those collecting unemployment benefits from receiving Social Security benefits, even if they qualify. 

The idea behind the provision seems to be that those who are already receiving unemployment benefits have no need of Social Security disability benefits since the programs serve the same purpose. This, however, is fundamentally untrue. Social Security disability benefits do not serve the same purpose as unemployment benefits, and those who qualify for both programs should be able to receive both sets of benefits for as long as they qualify.

As some disability advocates have pointed out, the misunderstanding is not helped by the fact that the cutoff provision was implemented in order to preserve federal dollars, since the savings at stake is not very impressive. In addition, the provision doesn’t help to address the financial challenges facing Social Security’s trust fund.

Those who are severely disabled and could benefit from Social Security disability income should not be put off by such misunderstandings of the program. Benefitting from a social insurance program put in place to help the seriously impaired is nothing to be ashamed of, and we can only hope that the popularity of blasting the program will subside and be replaced with a true understanding of the program’s purpose and its future challenges.  

Source: The Los Angeles Times, “The attack on the disabled buried in the president’s new budget,” Michael Hiltzik, March 5, 2014. 

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