Trump Targets Disability Assistance Already Strained for Deeper Cuts

The community of people with disabilities is on high alert after President Trump unveiled his proposed 2018 budget cuts, which call for a significant slashing to hallmark entitlement programs, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), that benefit this demographic as well as low-income Americans.

According to published reports, Trump’s budget proposal plans to cut funding to critical entitlement programs by $1.7 trillion over 10 years.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are stressing to the public that these cuts would not touch Social Security since SSI is funded by U.S. general treasury funds, not Social Security. However, other sources claim this budget reduction would still reduce the Supplemental Security Income to that of a block grant.

To qualify for SSI and SSDI is a task in itself. Only 27 percent of applicants are approved for the SSI program, according to public data. The percentages are slightly improved for SSDI funding, with about 4 of 10 people gaining approval.

There are five steps of evaluation to determine if people are eligible for either of these programs. The first three focus on medical evidence, doctors’ reports, etc., while the last two steps focus on the individual’s work limitations and the “physical and mental demands of work,” according to the Social Security Administration.

“The vast majority of people who apply for SSDI or SSI on the basis of disability are denied, and that includes scores of people who had significant disabilities and serious illnesses,” according to Rebecca Vallas, managing director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, emphasizing the inherent difficulty in applying for these programs. “One reason it’s so hard to qualify is that unlike a lot of disability programs, where if you can’t do your job anymore because of a disability you get wage insurance, we have a much higher bar that people have to meet. Not only do you have to prove through copious medical evidence that you can’t do your current job or your past job, but you also have to show that you couldn’t do any job that exists in the entire national economy in significant numbers at a level where you could earn even $1,100 per month.”

The Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), a standardized classification of occupations, is the primary source used in decisions for SSI and SSDI cases. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the usefulness of the DOT, which hasn’t been updated since the 1990s, has become a questionable source:

“The DOT’s suitability for this purpose, given its growing age, has been a source of increasing concern, and SSA has explored alternatives since the late 1990s.”

A 2011 Social Security Administration report took a finite look at denial claims.Researchers focused on characteristics of claims denied and approved to SSDI and SSI applicants and discovered that in 5.4 percent of cases denied at step four of the process, the adjudicator cited a job title that did not “clearly associate” with one of the applicant’s past jobs. Researchers also found that at step five denials, in a substantial number of cases, the Department of Disability Services cited jobs that “might be obsolete.”

The average monthly SSI payout is only $773 per eligible person, or $1,103 per eligible couple. According to a 2015 poll, about 8.3 million people are receiving SSI benefits. There are 8.9 million workers who receive disability insurance benefits, an average of $1,032 per month.

“That’s really scraping by,” Vallas said. “It’s not even enough to afford an apartment at fair market rent. These are programs that are not providing enough for people to afford the basics, and those are what Trump is targeting.”

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