SSA Disability: Program Redesign Necessary to Encourage Return to Work
The Disability Insurance (DI) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs are the two largest federal programs providing assistance to people with disabilities. The two programs served 7.2 million people in 1994 and provided $53 billion in cash benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers DI and SSI and makes benefits determinations using a common definition of disability for both programs. SSA is also responsible for encouraging DI and SSI beneficiaries to return to work whenever possible. To this end, DI and SSI applicants are to be referred to state vocational rehabilitation agencies. The Congress has enacted various work incentive provisions that are designed to safeguard beneficiaries’ cash and medical benefits to encourage them to test their ability to engage in work.
Despite these statutory provisions, as well as medical and technological changes that have afforded greater potential for some beneficiaries to work, not more than 1 of every 500 DI beneficiaries has left the rolls by returning to work. For this reason, the Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging asked GAO to
• describe changes in the number and characteristics of DI and SSI program beneficiaries over time and the implications of these changes for returning beneficiaries to work;
• analyze the disability determination process to assess whether it can accurately distinguish between applicants who can work and those who
• evaluate the effect of the disability determination process, work incentives, and vocational rehabilitation on returning DI and SSI beneficiaries to work. (U.S. General Accounting Office)
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