Letter to the Editor: Social Security’s benefits need to be improved

When vital social insurance programs, including Social Security Disability Insurance, are “never enough,” as the article noted, beneficiaries are invariably forced to do whatever it takes to survive. In the National Academy of Social Insurance’s Report to the New Leadership and the American People on Social Insurance and Inequality (issued in January), we examined sensible ways both to improve the performance of SSDI in meeting the needs of people with disabilities and to secure the program’s long-term solvency.

It is important for readers to remember that the SSDI test of work incapacity is very strict. Benefits are paid, after a five-month waiting period, only to individuals who have a medically determined physical or mental impairment that precludes substantial work activity. Beneficiaries meet this test only if they are unable (considering their age, education and work experience) to engage in any work in the national economy. Furthermore, the benefits themselves are often simply inadequate.

While SSDI’s integrity needs to be strengthened, even eliminating all fraud would not yield significant cost savings. A more productive focus is on its benefits, on modest measures that will support work where possible and on resources to administer this vital program.

Desperate lives are at stake.

William J. Arnone, Washington

The writer is chief executive of the National Academy of Social Insurance.

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