Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Reps. McCrery and Pomeroy Launch SSDI Solutions Initiative

Sep 16, 2014 | Social Security

Former Congressmen Jim McCrery (R-LA) and Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) today launched the McCrery-Pomeroy SSDI Solutions Initiative, a bipartisan effort to identify potential improvements to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.

The goal of the SSDI Solutions Intiative will be to solicit practical, implementable, and thoughtful ideas to improve the SSDI program through a "call for papers," a peer-review process, and an academic-style conference.

As we've explained before, the SSDI trust fund is projected to run out of funds in just two years – after which current law calls for a 20 percent across-the-board benefit cut. This could be avoided by borrowing or reallocating funds from the old-age system, but doing so would further strain the OASI trust fund, which also faces projected insolvency in the early 2030s. More importantly, the SSDI Solutions Initiative argues, it represents a missed chance to begin making improvements to various aspects of the SSDI program. They explain:

Instead of viewing the avoidance of trust fund exhaustion as a political liability, we believe policymakers should regard it as a policy opportunity. If provided with thoughtful and practical ideas to improve the SSDI program, policymakers could not only avoid insolvency but begin to reform the SSDI program for the better. This means identifying proposals well in advance of the deadline, rather than waiting for Congress to cobble together a last-minute, poorly conceived solution.

The SSDI Solutions Initiative will be lead by Pomeroy and McCrery, who will select proposals and synthesize their findings with assistance from an Advisory Council of experts, advocates, and practitioners from across the ideological spectrum. They both chaired the Social Security subcommittee of Ways & Means when in Congress. In a press release, McCrery explained the goals of the initiative:

“The SSDI trust fund is going to run out of money in only two years, and policymakers have done little to prepare... We’ve both spent enough time in Washington to know that Congress usually waits to act until the last minute, but sometimes the last minute is too late. Our goal is to provide elected officials with thoughtful and practical improvements to the program so they aren’t scrambling for answers under a deadline.”

Pomeroy also explained the importance of the initiative:

We both care deeply about the disability program and those who it serves. But pretending everything is great isn't a strategy to protect the program – it's denial... We need to make sure this system continues to provide support to the 11 million beneficiaries who count on it to pay their bills. But we also need to do a better job supporting Americans with disabilities who want to remain in or re-enter the workforce, making sure the determination process is fair and not overly cumbersome, and assuring the 165 million Americans who pay into the program that their money is being used wisely."

Although it is important for policymakers to fix SSDI's finances, the SSDI Solutions Initiative will not just be looking for reforms that yield savings. Instead, it will focus on identifying improvements in a wide array of areas such as the determination process, program integrity, interactions between SSDI and other federal and state programs, return-to-work incentives, and early interventions with disabled workers. Click here to learn more about the SSDI system and the challenges ahead.

The depletion of the DI trust fund is driven largely by the early impact of demographic factors which are beginning to affect the old age program. It should be viewed as an early warning sign of problems facing the Social Security program as a whole.

Ideally, the projected 2016 SSDI insolvency deadline would serve as a wake up call for Congress to enact comprehensive Social Security reform which improves and makes solvent both the disability and old-age programs, while allowing policymakers to address the interactions between the DI and OASI program and consider a broader range of tradeoffs between benefits and revenues.

Whether the depletion of the disability insurance trust fund is addressed as part of comprehensive reform or on its own, the debate should be informed by viable, constructive ideas to improve the SSDI program. The McCrery-Pomeroy SSDI Solutions Initiative is designed to generate such ideas.

Click here to visit SSDISolutions.org, the home of the McCrery-Pomeroy SSDI Solutions Initiative.