Social Security:

Disability Programs Lag in Promoting Return to Work

T-HEHS-96-147: Published: Jun 5, 1996. Publicly Released: Jun 5, 1996.

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GAO discussed Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program weaknesses that impede the Social Security Administration (SSA) from requiring beneficiaries to work. GAO noted that: (1) between 1985 and 1994, the combined DI and SSI beneficiary population increased 70 percent and the cost of cash benefits grew 66 percent; (2) these increases were due to eligibility expansion, program outreach, fewer continuing disability reviews, economic factors, and demographic changes; (3) the beneficiary population is growing younger, and more beneficiaries have long-term impairments; (4) the development of effective return-to-work strategies for people with severe disabilities is challenging because individuals require various levels of support, remedial training, and education; (5) technological and medical advances and economic and social changes have created more potential for some individuals with disabilities to return to work; (6) the SSI and DI benefit structure further complicates disability and work capability determinations; and (7) although SSI and DI programs offer such work incentives as trial work periods, extended eligibility, earned income exclusion, work expense subsidies, continued health insurance coverage, and reentitlement, they are not appropriately designed or implemented to motivate beneficiaries to return to work.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation is being followed up under another report, "SSA Disability: Return to Work Strategies From Other Systems May Improve Federal Programs" (GAO/HEHS-96-133, July 11, 1996).

    Recommendation: In line with placing greater emphasis on return to work, the Commissioner, SSA, needs to develop a comprehensive return-to-work strategy that integrates, as appropriate, earlier intervention, earlier identification and provision of necessary return-to-work assistance for applicants and beneficiaries, and changes in the structure of cash and medical benefits. As part of that strategy, the Commissioner needs to identify legislative changes that would be required to implement such a program.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration


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