Improving the Social Security Disability Determination Process

Improving the Social Security Disability Determination Process. Urban Institute. Jack Smalligan, Chantel Boyens. July 26, 2019

The Social Security Administration each year processes millions of applications for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. Currently, 10 states lack a second level review process, known as reconsideration, for disability claims that are initially denied and appealed. SSA has begun to reestablish the reconsideration stage in these states. This move has raised concerns and broader questions about SSA’s overall disability determination process.

In this paper the authors examine SSA’s disability determination process and past efforts to improve SSA’s process, and challenges and lessons for future reform. They identify a path forward that could improve the quality and timeliness of decisions by enhancing the reconsideration process to make it more robust, allowing better decisions to be made earlier, while keeping long-term program costs neutral. To support this approach, they put forward three options Congress could consider to provide sustained funding and commitment to the agreed-upon vision for reform. These options would allow SSA to test strategies and gather evidence to support decision making. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 38 pages].

Social Security: The Trust Funds

Social Security: The Trust Funds. Congressional Research Service. Barry F. Huston. Updated May 8, 2019

The Social Security program pays monthly cash benefits to retired or disabled workers and their family members and to the family members of deceased workers. Program income and outgo are accounted for in two separate trust funds authorized under Title II of the Social Security Act: the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. Projections show that the OASI fund will remain solvent until 2034, whereas the DI fund will remain solvent until 2052, meaning that each trust fund is projected to be able to pay benefits scheduled under current law in full and on time up to that point. Following the depletion of trust fund reserves (2052 for DI and 2034 for OASI), continuing income to each fund is projected to cover 91% of DI scheduled benefits and 77% of OASI scheduled benefits. The two trust funds are legally distinct and do not have authority to borrow from each other. However, Congress has authorized the shifting of funds between OASI and DI in the past to address shortfalls in a particular fund. Therefore, this CRS report discusses the operations of the OASI and DI trust funds on a combined basis, referring to them collectively as the Social Security trust funds. On a combined basis, the trust funds are projected to remain solvent until 2035. Following depletion of combined trust fund reserves at that point, continuing income is projected to cover 80% of scheduled benefits. 

[PDF format, 21 pages].

The Social Security Retirement Age

The Social Security Retirement Age.  Congressional Research Service. Zhe Li. March 7, 2019

The Social Security full retirement age (FRA) is the age at which workers can first claim full Social Security retired-worker benefits. Among other factors, a worker’s monthly benefit amount is affected by the age at which he or she claims benefits relative to the FRA. Benefit adjustments are made based on the number of months before or after the FRA the worker claims benefits. The adjustments are intended to provide the worker with roughly the same total lifetime benefits, regardless of when he or she claims benefits, based on average life expectancy. Claiming benefits before the FRA results in a permanent reduction in monthly benefits (to take into account the longer expected period of benefit receipt); claiming benefits after the FRA results in a permanent increase in monthly benefits (to take into account the shorter expected period of benefit receipt).

[PDF format, 14 pages].

Enhancing Work Incentives for Older Workers: Social Security and Medicare Proposals to Reduce Work Disincentives

Enhancing Work Incentives for Older Workers: Social Security and Medicare Proposals to Reduce Work Disincentives. Brookings Institution. Robert L. Clark and John B. Shoven. January 31, 2019

The American population is aging; and as a result, a larger share of the actual and potential labor force is now age 55 years and over. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the proportion of the labor force age 55 and over rose from 11.9 percent in 1994 to 21.7 percent in 2014, and the bureau projects that it will increase to 24.8 percent by 2024. The increasing share of the labor force age 55 and older is driven in part by the aging of the population; however, another important component is the substantial increase in the labor force participation rate among older cohorts. The participation rate of individuals age 55 and older rose from 30.1 percent in 1994 to 40.0 percent in 2014. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 24 pages].

How Should Social Security Adjust When People Live Longer?

How Should Social Security Adjust When People Live Longer? Urban Institute. C. Eugene Steuerle, Damir Cosic. August 20, 2018

 As people live longer, they spend more time in retirement, straining Social Security’s finances. This brief outlines the implications of three approaches to adjusting Social Security for longer lives: making no adjustment, which has applied over most of Social Security’s history; keeping constant the expected number of retirement years; and keeping constant the relative share of life in retirement. Compared to age 65 retirement in 1940, people under each rule would retire in 2100 at age 65, 79, and 76, respectively. The brief also shows how these calculations can be done under different assumptions. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

 [PDF format, 6 pages].

Delayed Retirement and the Growth in Income Inequality at Older Ages

Delayed Retirement and the Growth in Income Inequality at Older Ages. Urban Institute. Richard W. Johnson. February 1, 2018

 As concerns about retirement savings have intensified, many older adults have begun working beyond traditional retirement age. By working longer, they can improve their retirement security by increasing their future monthly Social Security payments and shortening the time they must rely on their savings. But does delaying retirement deepen income inequality for older adults by leaving those with health problems behind? [Note: contains copyrighted material].

 [PDF format, 35 pages].

Social Security Primer

Social Security Primer. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Dawn Nuschler. December 5, 2016

Social Security provides monthly cash benefits to retired or disabled workers and their family members, and to the family members of deceased workers. Among the beneficiary population, approximately 82% are retired or disabled workers, and 18% are the family members of retired, disabled, or deceased workers. In October 2016, nearly 61 million beneficiaries received a total of $75 billion in benefit payments for the month; the average monthly benefit was $1,241.
Workers become eligible for Social Security benefits for themselves and their family members by working in Social Security-covered employment. An estimated 94% of workers in paid employment or self-employment are covered, and their earnings are subject to the Social Security payroll tax. In 2017, employers and employees each pay 6.2% of covered earnings, up to the annual limit on taxable earnings ($127,200 in 2017).

[PDF format, 18 pages, 764.81 KB].