'A national disgrace': Trump proposes Social Security change that could end disability benefits for hundreds of thousands
Activists are working to raise public awareness and outrage over a little-noticed Trump administration proposal that could strip life-saving disability benefits from hundreds of thousands of people by further complicating the way the Social Security Administration determines who is eligible for payments.
The proposed rule change was first published in the Federal Register last month but has received scarce attention in the national media. Last week, the Social Security Administration extended the public comment period on the proposal until January 31, 2020.
"The Trump administration is attacking another vulnerable population: those who are disabled and receiving Social Security Disability benefits," tweeted patient advocate Peter Morley, who lobbies Congress on healthcare issues. "This is a national disgrace."
"This is not over," said Morley. "We will all need to mobilize."
The process for receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is already notoriously complicated, and the Trump administration is attempting to add yet another layer of complexity that critics say is aimed at slashing people's benefits.
As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week, "those already receiving disability benefits are subject to so-called continuing disability reviews, which determine whether they are still deserving of compensation for an injury, illness, or other incapacitating problem as their lives progress."
Currently, beneficiaries are placed in three separate categories based on the severity of their disability: "Medical Improvement Not Expected," "Medical Improvement Expected," and "Medical Improvement Possible." People with more severe medical conditions face less frequent disability reviews.
The Trump administration's proposed rule would another category called "Medical Improvement Likely," which would subject beneficiaries to disability reviews every two years.
According to the Inquirer, "an estimated 4.4 million beneficiaries would be included in that designation, many of them children and so-called Step 5 recipients, an internal Social Security classification."
Step 5 recipients, the Inquirer noted, "are typically 50 to 65 years of age, in poor health, without much education or many job skills [and] often suffer from maladies such as debilitating back pain, depression, a herniated disc, or schizophrenia."
Jennifer Burdick, supervising attorney with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, said placing Step 5 recipients in the new "Medical Improvement Likely" category and subjecting them to reviews every two years would represent "a radical departure from past practice."
Kate Lang, senior attorney at the non-profit group Justice in Aging, told the Inquirer that the Trump administration is "out to shrink the rolls."
"And they're setting people up to not comply," said Lang.
In addition to lack of coverage from the national media, most members of Congress have also been relatively quiet about the Trump administration's proposal.
Two Pennsylvania Democrats—Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Brendan Boyle—condemned the proposed rule change in statements to the Inquirer.
The proposal, said Casey, "appears to be yet another attempt by the Trump administration to make it more difficult for people with disabilities to receive benefits."
Boyle said the "changes seem arbitrary, concocted with no evidence or data to justify such consequential modifications."
"This seems like the next iteration of the Trump administration's continued efforts to gut Social Security benefits," Boyle added.