Social Security Disability Insurance: Multiple Factors Affect Beneficiaries' Ability to Return to Work
Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) is one of the largest federal programs providing cash assistance to people with disabilities. Established in 1956, DI is an insurance program funded by payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers into a Social Security trust fund. In 1996, about 4.4 million working-age people (aged 18 to 64) received DI cash benefits. The average monthly cash benefit in 1996 was $704, and the overall amount of cash benefits paid was about $40 billion.
Not more than 1 in 500 DI beneficiaries leaves the rolls by returning to work. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates that annually about 8,500 beneficiaries successfully complete a 9-month test of their ability to work in paid employment and enter an extended period of eligibility intended to help ease their transition to work. Yet, relatively little is known about the confluence of factors that helps beneficiaries overcome employment challenges and disincentives, and the factors that inhibit them from achieving an earnings level that leads to self-sufficiency.
Recently, Members of the Congress and advocates for people with disabilities have proposed various reforms, including tax incentives, to help improve return-to-work outcomes. These reforms include changes that would allow beneficiaries who work while on the rolls to keep more of their earnings, safeguard medical coverage, and enhance vocational rehabilitation. (GAO)
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