Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Marc Goldwein: Social Security Disability System Is Broken

May 1, 2012 | Social Security

CRFB's Senior Policy Director Marc Goldwein has a message to policymakers in an op-ed in The Hill: don't overlook the disability insurance (DI) program. The latest Trustees report projecting the DI trust fund to run out in only four years, but people often overlook that deadline, since they assume money would be transferred from the old age portion of the program. 

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However, Goldwein says that simply making that transfer would be poor policy.

The Social Security disability system is broken in many ways. Not only is the program financial insolvent, but the system is wrought with fraud, needlessly complex, difficult to navigate, inconsistent and unfair in determining eligibility, inflexible to changes in the structure of the workforce, administratively overburdened, almost completely uncoordinated with other government policies, and unable to help or reward those who are interested in reentering the workforce.

Making the disability system solvent simply by taking money from the already-underfunded old-age system would represent a double policy failure by committing a disservice to both programs. Instead, policymakers should use the fast-approaching insolvency date in the same way they did when the trust funds ran low in 1983 – come together and fix both programs for this generation and the next.

Goldwein goes on to suggest ways to reform the program. Options include pushing tougher anti-fraud measures, limiting retroactive benefits, and eliminating the payroll tax cap for the 1.8 percent tax that is dedicated specifically to the DI trust fund. He also encourages lawmakers to take the opportunity of shoring up a program with immediate funding problems to address the broader Social Security program. As he says:

Ideally, we wouldn’t need a looming insolvency to force action on this important issue. But if politicians need the threat of a crisis in order to act responsibly, there is no shortage of these in the months and years ahead. Hopefully they will act in time to avoid them.

Click here to read the full op-ed.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.