Monday, September 29, 2014

Disability, Benefits, & Employment

Jennifer Lazlo Mizrahi, Huffington Post - September 26, 2014

This is a pretty good round-up of the major problems with Social Security’s disability benefit programs … SSDI and SSI … most of which relate to two basic ideas:

1. Disability means an inability to work, and

2. The ability to work is an either-or proposition.

Neither of these concepts are valid today, if they ever were.

Physical or mental disabilities often have an impact on employment, but people with any kind of disability can work for pay, given the right adaptations and opportunity. At the same time, any kind of disability can, at times, make regular work difficult or impossible, even if only temporarily. Then there is that gray area many disabled people find themselves in … able to work for awhile, at something less than full time, and not enough to earn a complete living.

Reforms like the ABLE Act are good ideas, but they don’t quite get at the root of the problem. Two thoughts occur to me:

1. Sever the connection between disability benefits and employment entirely. Make benefits eligibility dependent solely on actual disabilities and individuals’ disability-related needs, regardless of their employment status.

2. Increase subsidies to employers who hire people with disabilities.

I’m not sure these are politically feasible or even good ideas, but they are worth discussing because they might lead to a better understanding of the real relationships between disability, benefits, and employment.