Is Improving Incentives to Return to Work the Best Reform?

Critics hoping to reform Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) point to several statistics over the past several decades that they say demonstrate problems with the system:

  • The number of disability recipients has increased by 50 percent over the past decade
  • 40 years ago, about a fifth received benefits for mental illnesses or musculoskeletal problems; today more than half do (it became easier for patients with mental illnesses to receive disability benefits in the mid 1980s with changes in regulations)
  • Fewer workers – 35 percent in 1981 versus 22.6 percent last year – opt to work even if they have a disability, preferring to receive disability benefits instead

The work-related statistics are often the most troubling for people seeking to reform disability benefits. The incentive to return to work with today’s benefits, they claim, is simply too little. If you have any experience returning to work after receiving disability benefits, we welcome your thoughts below. Would more stringent regulations reduce those taking advantage of the disability system or would it just add another layer of bureaucracy and impede all applicants?

One possible reform might be to have more of a sliding scale for disabled workers who are increasingly able to work. As it stands, once workers start making more than about $1,000 a month, they lose all disability benefits. It is an all or nothing system, so for many disabled workers, working too much might backfire. If they end up earning beyond just $1,000 a month, they could lose their benefits.

Troutman & Troutman, P.C. – Tulsa Social Security disability law firm


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