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Senator Lankford Applauds Social Security Administration Decision To Explore SSDI Eligibility Reforms

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) applauds the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) recent decision to seek comments on updating the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program’s medical and vocational guidelines, commonly known as “The Grid.”

On September 14, the SSA announced an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to begin the process of considering regulatory changes to update the criteria by which Americans are considered eligible for SSDI benefits. There have been significant changes in technology and workforce demographics since SSA first adopted their vocational factor regulations in 1978. By seeking input, the SSA intends to explore how vocational factors of age, education, and work experience in adult disability claims should be factored into the eligibility decision.

Lankford has been a vocal advocate for reforming SSDI since his time as Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements last Congress. In April 2014, Lankford and Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked the Acting Commissioner at the time, Carolyn Colvin, to make 11 reforms to improve the program that could be done without Congressional legislation. One of the recommendations was to update its eligibility criteria to match today’s workforce capabilities.

“I applaud the decision by the Social Security Administration to follow through on my recommendation and explore the outdated Social Security Disability Insurance eligibility criteria standards,” said Lankford. “A great deal has changed since 1978 and the SSDI workforce eligibility needs to be updated to reflect new employment opportunities and medical advances. The SSDI program is fast approaching insolvency. Immediate major reform is needed to strengthen this program. If we don’t reform this program, millions of truly disabled Americans are at risk of losing their much-needed benefits.”

The statutory requirement to qualify for Disability Insurance is that a person cannot fulfill any job in the economy. However, because of technological advances, many more people today can perform remote, mobile or technology-based jobs that could not be done decades ago. Additionally, advances in treatments and therapies have improved the quality of life for Americans with medical conditions.

The Social Security Disability Trust Fund is paid by payroll taxes. When the Trust Fund goes insolvent next year, benefits for the 14 million disabled Americans will face a drastic cut of almost 20 percent, or the fund will have to be replenished with higher taxes.

The comment period for this SSA Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking closes on November 13, 2015. Individuals who want to comment should submit their statements, along with any supporting data, to its Federal Register regulatory website. An Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is the first step in the regulatory process. It’s used by a federal agency as a vehicle for obtaining public participation in the formulation of a regulatory change.

In July, the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees released their Annual Report on the financial outlook of the SSDI program. In the report, they affirmed that the program was approaching insolvency and that a reallocation of funds should not be considered a long-term solution.

Earlier this summer, Lankford wrote an opinion piece entitled, Social Security Disability Insurance Is a Looming Crisis, which focused on solutions to resolve consistent issues with the program.