The Future of Social Security

Social Security disability insurance is in trouble and has been for quite some time.

Under the disability arm of Social Security, the program provides partial wage replacement and access to health insurance to Americans who are unable to work because of their disability. However, the trust fund disability draws from is running dry and absent action from Washington is leaving nearly 11 million Americans (19 percent of the US population) uncertain of the months ahead, possibly facing a 20 percent reduction in benefits.

Tim Andrews a BraunAbility van owner in Colorado is one of the 11 million dependent on disability benefits. Applying for benefits, he said, was easy. But being interviewed by a specialist was when “it gets really sticky.”

Andrews said it takes months for the agency to determine if you are, in fact, disabled. Despite the fact he arrived at the interview in a wheelchair and with one leg, the process wasn’t shortened on this account. Though retroactive to the point you were considered handicapped, too often jobs are lost or left in the interim because commuting no longer becomes an option.

“I’d prefer to be working,” Andrews said. “I traveled a lot for work, but I couldn’t easily travel any longer. I had to give in to disability.”

President Barack Obama released a fiscal budget for 2016 in February proposing a reallocation of tax revenue from the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) to the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds while a longer-term solution to overall Social Security solvency is developed with Congress, and without which would be unable to pay full benefits as early as late 2016. With this latest proposal, both the retirement and disability arms of Social Security would be solvent until 2033.

The fiscal budget reads, “SSA’s workloads continue to increase as the baby boom generation enters its most disability-prone years. The average wait time for a disability decision before an ALJ (Administrative Law Judges) reached a record high of 18.5 months in August 2008. SSA was able to reduce the wait time down to a 10-year low of 12 months in 2011 and 2012, but due to funding constraints, the wait time has begun to grow again and is anticipated to rise above 16 months in 2015.”

Image of Capitol Building where decisions will be made on disability coverageThat’s 16 months of bills being paid through savings (if you have them) before any money is received. And that is what Andrews finds unacceptable.

“It took way more time than it should have,” Andrews said. He admitted he wasn’t informed of how the agency decides how much he would receive in benefits. “I’m one who has lost total confidence in our Congress…to be able to come together to resolve issues of this magnitude in a timely matter. It’s all politics.”

Andrews’ wife is a teacher, and their income relies on her salary and his benefit check. He’s taken up stock trading to keep himself busy, but much of their lives has become a waiting game. Thankfully, the Ralph Braun Foundation accepted the Andrews’ application for financial assistance and he is now the proud owner of a BraunAbility van. He can itch his travel bone again, but wondering what might happen to his Social Security disability check in the meantime puts a damper on even the happiest of occasions.

What is the true solution?

Andrews said he doesn’t know. One thing he is certain of is waiting until the last moment to decide is not it.

“As of now, there is no proposed legislation to effectively solve the problem (of Social Security),” Andrews said. “That, to me, is not an effective government. To have an issue that large that the American public have paid their wages to and still the problem is kicked down the road…this is not what our forefathers would have wanted.”

To read the full proposed fiscal budget for 2016, click here.