SSDI: A Crisis Created by Congress

The Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) program is in “crisis,” we are told. The time for “reform” is now, it is said. Isolated instances of fraud are touted as a “warning light.” The number, $100 million is bandied about as a large number, and it is. However, not in comparison to the cost of the entire SSDI program, which has expense of $130 billion per year.

And often, these figures may be deceiving, as with the finding of $17 billion in overpayments. To generate this number, they looked at 10 years of data, during which time the Social Security Administration (SSA) paid out approximately $1.3 trillion in benefits.

Could the SSA perform better? Sure, they could. But Congress has cut budget requests for SSA in recent years, and they have had to shed thousands of employees. The entire process of examining a disability claim and any resulting additional hearings or appeals are all very labor and time intensive.

The reality is stark. Because of the already rigorous standards for receiving SSDI benefits, most of those who qualify are really far too sick to ever return to “substantial gainful activity.” While there are savings to be had, those savings will require additional resources.

If SSA increased the number of continuing disability reviews (CDR) it performed, some people would be found to have improved and no longer qualify. But those CDRs are also labor intensive and Congress would have to appropriate additional funds to hire sufficient staff to enable more of CDRs.

The exhaustion of the SSDI trust fund is not due to fraud or vast numbers of people using the program as a substitute for unemployment insurance. In 1994, SSA projected that the trust fund would be exhausted in 2016 if Congress failed to act to increase funding for the program.

Congress has failed to act and the projection remains accurate today. The only “crisis” is the one of Congressional inaction. 

Source:, “Another looming crisis: Social Security Disability Insurance,” Sen. James Lankford, July 6, 2015