Senators Cotton and Lee Propose Ideas to Strengthen SSDI

Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced legislation recently to help improve the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program for beneficiaries who are able to work. The legislation is based heavily on a proposal put forward by our McCrery-Pomeroy SSDI Solutions Initiative earlier this year.

The Return to Work Act of 2016 (along with its companion legislation in the House by Representative J. French Hill (R-AR)) would allow the Social Security Administration (SSA) to identify those SSDI beneficiaries most likely to experience recovery and then provide a combination of carrots, sticks, and signals to help them return to work when possible. Specifically, the legislation would time-limit benefits for those most likely to recover (with a fast-track reapplication process), more slowly phase out benefits for those who find work, and reform and increase funding for the Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) process.

The legislation largely mirrors the recommendations in Chapter 12 of the SSDI Solutions Initiative's book, SSDI Solutions: Ideas to Strengthen the Social Security Disability Insurance Program. That chapter – "Transitional Benefits for a Subset of the Social Security Disability Insurance Population" written by Kim Hildred, Pam Mazerski, Harold Krent, and Jennifer Christian – outlines and discusses how policymakers could best facilitate work among those who are able.

Importantly, encouraging SSDI beneficiaries to return to work should be viewed as just one element of a SSDI reform effort. In terms of work incentives, initiative Co-Chairs and former Congressmen Jim McCrery (R-LA) and Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) explained in their book that "for most Americans with disabilities who are able to work, early intervention may prove far more successful than return-to-work efforts."

In fact, the SSDI Solutions Initiative has put forward three separate proposals to promote early intervention along with eight further proposals covering a variety of areas of SSDI reform. You can read more about these ideas here.

Overall, we are extremely encouraged that Senators Lee and Cotton have begun putting forward solutions to improve the SSDI program overall – not just its finances. We hope more members of both parties and in both chambers follow suit.