Trump administration proposes Social Security rule changes that could cut off thousands of disabled recipients

The Trump administration is proposing changes to Social Security that could terminate disability payments to hundreds of thousands of Americans, particularly older people and children.

The new rule would change aspects of disability reviews – the methods by which the Social Security Administration determines whether a person continues to qualify for benefits. Few recipients are aware of the proposal, which is open for public comment through January.

Critics of the plan liken it to the administration’s efforts to cut food stamps, among other entitlement programs, with insufficient information offered to explain curtailing benefits.

Social Security officials declined to comment. For years, Republicans have argued that Social Security benefits need to be reined in to save money.

The new rule, advocates for low-income Americans say, is just a way to push people off the disability rolls.

“I have serious concerns about this proposed rule,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D., Pa., adding that it “appears to be yet another attempt by the Trump administration to make it more difficult for people with disabilities to receive benefits.”

In a similar vein, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., said, “These 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.”

Typically, Americans who are too physically and/or mentally impaired to work may be eligible for one of two kinds of benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

While SSDI is for people who have worked at least 10 years, SSI is for low-income recipients who have seldom, if ever, been employed.

More than 16 million Americans receive either SSDI (8.5 million) or SSI (8 million). SSI benefits can run to $770 a month; SSDI payments, which are based on lifetime earnings, can range from $800 to $1,800 monthly, government figures show.

Merely getting benefits is an extraordinarily difficult task, often taking years and requiring applicants to compile reams of documents, then state and restate their cases in front of hearing officers, adjudicators, and judges.

Explaining the proposed rule change, Kathleen Romig, a senior policy analyst and Social Security expert at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning nonprofit in Washington, said, “Parts of what’s happening are mystifying. And it’s very complicated.”

The new rule is “the government trying to kick us out of SSI,” said Jahan Johnson, 34, a single mother of three children – two of them on SSI – in Northeast Philadelphia. Johnson, who is bipolar and suffers from scoliosis, is also on SSI.

“What they’re doing is wrong, and making life harder.”

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.

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