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Senators Lankford, Manchin Ask Senate Tax Leaders to Not Abandon SSDI Reform

WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) today encouraged Senate finance leaders to not abandon the pursuit of real reforms for the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, because the short-term reallocation patch in October’s Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 is not a long-term solution.

In a letter to Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch and Ranking Member Ron Wyden, Lankford and Manchin reminded them that the Bipartisan Budget Act’s reallocation of payroll tax funding from the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust fund to SSDI is not enough to address the program’s crisis and protect the program in the long run for the beneficiaries who truly need it. In its 2015 annual report, the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees affirmed that the SSDI program was approaching insolvency and that a reallocation of funds should not be considered a long-term solution.

Senator Lankford has been a vocal advocate to reform SSDI beginning with his time in the House as Subcommittee Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy Policy, HealthCare and Entitlements. In April 2014, Lankford and Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked the Commissioner Carolyn Colvin to make 11 reforms to improve the program that could be done without Congressional legislation. In September 2015, the Social Security Administration (SSA) decided to pursue one of those reforms, by updating the SSDI program’s medical and vocational guidelines.

In October, Lankford offered a robust reform proposal, as an amendment to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, to improve the adjudication process for appeals and reconsiderations; prevent individuals from receiving SSDI who are not disabled; and ensure stronger program integrity, processing and oversight. The amendment did not pass, but was praised by colleagues and budget groups as a serious proposal to consider in the future.

A PDF of the letter is available here, and the text is below:

The Honorable Orrin Hatch

Chairman, Senate Finance Committee

219 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510      

 

The Honorable Ron Wyden

Ranking Member, Senate Finance Committee

221 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

 

Dear Chairman Hatch and Ranking Member Wyden,

We write to you to encourage the Senate Finance Committee to continue to work on real proposals to address clearly-identified problems within the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.

As you know, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (the Act) signed into law by President Obama included several provisions related to the SSDI Program. In addition to a reallocation of payroll tax from the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust fund to shore up the SSDI trust fund until 2022, the law includes a number of modest proposals aimed at program integrity and encouraging work. We appreciate that the legislation averted the immediate crisis of a benefit cut for SSDI beneficiaries in 2016. However, the provisions included in the Bipartisan Budget Act are only a small step towards the long-term solvency issues facing the SSDI program.

The 2015 Social Security Trustees report recommended “Any necessary resource reallocation that does occur should not be regarded as a substitute for action to sustain the finances of DI and Social Security as a whole, nor enacted in a manner that has the effect of further postponing those required corrections.” Although the Act temporarily extended the solvency of the SSDI program and included some small improvements to the program, it did little to improve the program’s long-term finances or to improve the structure of the SSDI program for beneficiaries and taxpayers. We hope you agree that more substantial reforms are needed.

Over the course of last year Members of Congress, good-government groups, stakeholders, and disability advocates proposed and commented on numerous proposals aimed at reforming SSDI.  A good faith effort needs to be undertaken to examine all of these proposals to address the problems facing the program in total: reform is needed for the SSDI application and adjudication process to ensure fair and more timely hearings; correction is needed where SSDI overlaps with other federal programs; continued fraud and overpayments to individuals who are no longer disabled must be addressed; and, ideas to intervene with applicants early and encourage a return to work must be examined to ensure applicants receive the support they need to either achieve benefits or re-enter the workforce. We must work to strengthen this program so that it continues to be financially strong for the individuals who are truly in need.

We look forward to working with you to achieve true disability insurance reform to protect disabled beneficiaries and the trust funds.

 

Sincerely,

Senators James Lankford and Joe Manchin 

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