Legislative Update: December 2015

Legislative Update: December 2015

Budget Deal Passes With Provisions To Head Off SSDI Benefit Cut

By Jessie Gibbons, Senior Policy Analyst

Congress recently took action to head off a looming 19% cut in Social Security disability benefits received by nearly 10.8 million disabled adults and their dependents. The Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund was projected to run low of funds by the end of 2016, but changes contained in the recent debt limit budget deal include a number of provisions to strengthen program financing. Many of them had the support of TSCL.

In the months before the deal was reached, two Congressional Committees called upon organizations, advocates and other stakeholders to offer their ideas for strengthening the program’s finances. TSCL submitted a set of recommendations in August, and then in September, we met with key aides on the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee to discuss our proposal in detail.

Here are the seven policy priorities for the disability program that we shared, based on overwhelming support in our recent polls and surveys of our members and supporters. Many of them appeared in the budget deal that was reached in October.


  • Increasing funding for Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs), which are conducted periodically to ensure that disabled enrollees still qualify for benefits. CDRs return $9 to the program for every $1 invested.
  • Tightening eligibility requirements, including requiring disability applicants to have worked six of the past ten years (instead of five), and modestly increasing the age at which it becomes easier to qualify for benefits from forty-five to fifty.
  • Preventing the “double-dipping” of disability and unemployment benefits, since eligibility for the two programs should be mutually exclusive – the DI program is for individuals who are unable to work, and the unemployment program is for individuals who can.
  • Improving the disability program’s integrity by prohibiting the use of medical evidence from health providers who have been convicted of a felony, when deciding whether an applicant qualifies for benefits. This would make it more difficult for criminals to game the system.
  • Eliminating the “cash cliff” that hits when a disabled beneficiary earns more than $1,090 in any given month and is immediately cut off from benefits. The cash cliff serves as a workforce disincentive and could be addressed by simply adopting the method used in the retirement program, where monthly benefits are reduced by $1 for every $2 in earnings over $1,310, thus providing an improved earning opportunity.
  • Lifting the maximum taxable wage cap so that wealthy individuals pay Social Security taxes on more of their income. Currently, annual income over $118,500 is not subject to the payroll tax.
  • Increasing the payroll tax rate gradually by around 1 percent for both workers and employers. Doing so would amount to an additional 50 cents per week for the average American worker – an amount that TSCL feels is reasonable.


To read our full recommendations to Congress or for more information on the recent budget deal, visit our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org.