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Budget measure enshrines misunderstanding of SSDI program

Because Social Security disability is such an important program for disabled Americans, disability advocates are always on the lookout for government policies and popular attitudes that could undermine it. Readers are probably familiar with the kind of banter that has been going on in recent years between conservative politicians bent on trimming the budget by targeting the Social Security disability program and disability advocates who caution against weakening the Social Security disability program.

One of the more recent threats to the Social Security disability program, according to disability advocates, is a provision in the President’s budget, which involves putting a cutoff on disability benefits for those who are already collecting unemployment benefits. The idea behind the measure is to prevent people from taking advantage of the system by enjoying benefits that—and this is the implicit assumption—serve the same purpose. 

In reality, though, unemployment benefits do not serve the same purpose as Social Security disability benefits. While the former are intended to compensate those who have lost their work until they are employed again, the latter are specifically intended to compensate those who lack income due to a disabling impairment. In many cases, SSDI beneficiaries will never be able to work again.

It is important to understand that the Social Security disability program is not a government handout, as is all too often assumed. Rather, it is a social insurance program that is of great value to those who lack income due to a serious disability. The correct understanding of this program should encourage those with serious disabilities to put in an application without feeling guilty, and should inspire lawmakers to take reasonable measures to ensure the stability of the program. 

Source: Los Angeles Times, “The attack on the disabled buried in the president’s new budget,” Michael Hiltzik, March 5, 2014. 

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