U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined with two Senate conservatives on Wednesday to back a proposal reforming Social Security disability benefits.
Noting that disability benefits are consuming more Social Security funds, Rubio and U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, are co-sponsoring U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s, R-Ark., “Return to Work Act" which places new applicants who qualify for Social Security disability benefits in four groups based on whether medical improvement is expected, likely, possible or not expected.
Beneficiaries in the first three groups would be given a timeline to receive disability benefits while those who are not expected to recover would not. If beneficiaries in the first three groups have not recovered at the end of their timelines--two years for those deemed expected to recover, five years for those deemed likely to recover, longer for those whose recovery is possible--they will be able to reapply for disability benefits.
The senators noted a sharp rise in the costs of Social Security's Disability Insurance programs moving from “$20 to $137 billion (in 2012 dollars) since 1970" while fewer Americans in the programs have returned to work. In 1970, less than 1.5 million Americans were beneficiaries while currently there are almost 9 million beneficiaries. Despite more Americans enrolled in the program, fewer are returning to work. While almost 6 percent of Americans using those programs in 1982 returned to work, now it is less than one half of one percent.
Rubio made his case for why the bill was needed, insisting there have been many problems with the programs in recent years.
“Social Security Disability Insurance is supposed to be a safety net for people with disabilities,” Rubio said on Wednesday. “However, rampant abuse, lax enforcement and insufficient accountability have enabled this program to grow unchecked and prevented many people from going back to work. The health of our national economy and strength of our communities depend on able-bodied Americans earning paychecks. This legislation represents a long overdue reform that takes care of working Americans and saves our social safety net for the truly disabled.”
“We shouldn’t resign people with treatable conditions to a lifetime of sitting on the sidelines. If they can get back to work, then by all means we should help them,” Cotton said. “That’s why we’ve got to fix this program so it takes into account people’s different capabilities. This will not only save the program, which is dangerously close to going bankrupt; It will save our aid for the people who need it most.”
“We can’t keep stealing from the Social Security Trust Fund to bail out the Social Security Disability Insurance system,” Lee said. “We need real reforms that will both make it easier for recovering Americans to return to work and make the program solvent.”
Cotton’s fellow Arkansas Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill brought out the House version of the bill.
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