The population involved with any social program is the crucial element in making decisions to change the program. Making decisions without including the population involved is like making changes to something specifically designed for an individual without any concept of who the individual is. In short - attempts to somehow reform the SSI or SSDI programs without serious, in-depth involvement of People with Disabilities and Seniors is an insult and most likely fruitless.
For this very reason, the U.S. Government has presented the opportunity for the National Council on Disability (NCD) to become involved in the process. The NCD has presented a number of questions related to Social Security reform, some of which this writer will attempt to answer. The NCD is a Disability Organization representing us; however, it would be wonderful to find a number of individual responses from people with disabilities and seniors at the bottom of this article.
The NCD has stated that a fundamental restructuring of the SSI and SSDI system would require an alignment with the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the elimination of the requirement that an SSDI applicant declare themselves completely unable to work in order to be eligible for benefits. It would require the provision of job retention supports to workers with disabilities who are at risk of losing their jobs due to disability, as well as providing assistance to people with disabilities who are at risk of losing their jobs because they are not receiving reasonable accommodations.
The first thoughts that come to mind involve the establishment of workplace supports aimed directly at workers with disabilities and employers. Every employer in America needs to have the ability to pick up a telephone or email a representative and receive information on everything from job sharing to reasonable accommodations. Every worker with a disability needs to have this same ability.
Reforms to the SSA can include an outside, government program that either organizes various Disability Organizations across America to accomplish these goals, or a government program that accomplishes these goals of itself. Existing supports in these areas are clearly not accomplishing these goals to the levels needed. One unified and focused place to go to for job sharing, accommodation, and disability employment information for both employers and people with disabilities is needed.
The NCD has asked:
"Given the extremely diverse populations served by the SSI and SSDI programs, how might different reform strategies disproportionately impact - either positively or negatively - particular segments of the disability community"
The number one enemy of People with Disabilities is poverty. Poverty has no regard for race, class, gender, sexual orientation or other social identification. People with disabilities who are not living in poverty are often living on extremely low incomes and are right next door to poverty, or even homelessness. High medical co-pays that are unexpected, increases in the costs of daily living through food costs, utility costs, rent costs and more all have the potential to drastically affect us.
Within the Disability Community there are specific populations that have the potential to be affected by these things to a greater extent than others. Reforms to the SSI program, along with suggestions of, 'vouchers,' for heath care, have the potential to find many people on this program homeless. The Ryan Plan would find numbers of People with Disabilities on Medicaid struggling to live within strict medical guidelines, as well as survive on what is already an extremely low income.
The level of ability a person with disabilities experiences also affects the ways in which they will be able to react to any reforms to the SSI or SSDI programs. For example; a person with intellectual disabilities may not be able to understand the reforms that have taken place, while a person with quadriplegia may not have the ability to participate in employment opportunities that are presented. A person with progressive osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis may find themselves struggling to participate in reforms aimed at assisting them to participate in employment, or without the ability to participate at all.
In Relation to the Ticket to Work Program, the NCD Asked:
To what extent has the Ticket-to-Work initiative been evaluated? What lessons can be drawn from the challenges the Ticket to Work program has faced in realizing its intended goals? If sufficient information is available to make a determination, what reforms to the Ticket to Work program are recommended
When I asked my husband Tom about his experiences with the Ticket to Work program, he told me that the program essentially threw him a listing of employers in the area and dropped the ball. At one point, vocational rehabilitation had him putting washers on pegs and so forth; ok. This is the guy who went to college. VA rehabilitation only referred him to the state vocational rehabilitation. So the Ticket to Work program wasn't worth a whole heck of a lot to him; bear in mind this was a dozen years ago, and things have changed - at least from a web page perspective.
How the program is functioning now is anyone's guess. Many of the same options are still being presented such as:
All of which are wonderful, if you can find work. Tom's experience with the Ticket to Work program is in the past; we now live in an age where electronic communications are far more prevalent. People with Disabilities very greatly need the opportunity to work from their own homes doing everything from administrative duties to call center ones.
An assessment of the kinds of work that can be performed at one's own home through technologies that are currently available simply must be performed. Not only can People with Disabilities work from our own homes, we can use this technology to save employers money. Employers who have workers with disabilities working from home need less office space - meaning they pay less for that office space; for example. With less office space comes the saving related to all of the things associated with the office space an employer would have had. It makes incredible sense to hire workers with disabilities to work from our own homes. The Ticket to Work program can be a doorway to these types of employment.
The Ticket to Work program needs to evolve from just offering the things it currently does to becoming a full-blown employment agency for People with Disabilities. The name of the program is currently misleading in this regard. The Ticket to Work program must directly connect workers with disabilities with employers who will hire them based upon their skills and abilities; employers who will work with them to keep them employed. The Ticket to Work program must also immediately place workers with disabilities in new jobs should they lose their current one. If People with Disabilities are expected to take on the responsibility of working, the Ticket to Work program must take on the responsibility of supporting us adequately.
The NCD asked, in Relation to Employers:
"Could an incentive mechanism be used to encourage employers to make more efforts to accommodate employees with disabilities and to avoid employees with disabilities going on to SSDI rolls, e.g. an experience rating system whereby employers, whose employees have a lower rate of SSDI retirements, pay lower SSDI payroll taxes"
A study must be performed which measures the financial impact of keeping an employee off of the SSDI roles over the period of a year. Using the results, the government can measure the number of working years an employee has left and reward an employer appropriately by lowering the SSDI payroll taxes the employer pays in relation to keeping a particular employee with disabilities working, accommodated, and on the employer's payroll. For every year an employer keeps a person with disabilities employed, they do not pay the appropriate amount of SSDI payroll tax associated with the employee.
The NCD Asked About Individual States and Incentives Related to the SSI Program:
"Could an incentive mechanism be developed to encourage states to supplement the SSI program with state funds"
Every single person in America has the potential to experience a form of disability during their lifetime. The States in America receive funding through taxation of the citizens within their particular State. The SSI program is there for people who experience a form of disability. Who are these People with Disabilities? They are family members; they are children, they are loved ones.
Encouraging the States in America to supplement the SSI program would require the taxpayers of the States to agree. For this reason I suggest that every single State, County, and City job position that can possibly be held by a worker with a form of disability be so. Workers with Disabilities are notoriously hard workers - many times we out-do our non-disabled counterparts.
A very great awareness of our presence must spread. The populations of the States in America in general must become vastly more aware of the People with Disabilities within the States, as well as who we are on a more personal basis. Until everyone from the leadership to the average person on the street understands that we are a part of society - incentive for the States to contribute to the SSI program may be difficult. We need to be seen for who we are; family members, loved ones, our children, veterans with disabilities, and members of the communities within the States.
Even a 1% tax on luxury items such as high-end electronics, champagne, or similar items, could find States in America contributing to the SSI program. Items such as expensive cars, houses priced over $500,000, or expensive hotel rooms could be eligible for such a 1% tax. The leadership of the States could write legislation for this luxury tax. All of these items are things people on the SSI program will most likely never have the ability to have or experience.
In Regards to Disability Insurance the NCD Asked:
"Could an incentive mechanism be used to encourage more employers to offer private disability insurance policies that would supplement the SSDI program"
Everyone needs health care and insurance is something everyone needs. Separating People with Disabilities out from other employees comprises discrimination in this writer's opinion. Employers need a change of perspective; one that finds them viewing every one of their employees as employees - not by particular health status where insurance is concerned.
Financial relief for the Medicare/Medicaid system means reform of the insurance industry. It means availability of types of insurance which adequately cover workers with disabilities on an equal basis with non-disabled workers. It means perspectives towards workers with disabilities must change. It means the costs of insurance must go down to the point where insurance through an employer is equivalent to the costs of Medicare.
If an employer is to have an incentive to provide insurance coverage for employees with disabilities, the number one way to do it is for them to have types of insurance available to them with equivalent costs to those for non-disabled employees. The only way to accomplish this is for the insurance industry to stop discriminating against us; something it will most likely have to be forced to do through legislation.
The NCD Also Asked:
"Are there other changes to the SSDI or SSI programs that would promote work activity, preserve benefits for those who need them, and secure the fiscal integrity of these programs"
People with Disabilities, in many instances, need the ability to work, 'ad-hoc.' What this means is the electronic age must be taken full-advantage of. There are millions of People with Disabilities who; given the opportunity, have the ability to work from our own homes doing any number of useful tasks that employers will appreciate at any point during a given month.
For example; a person on SSDI might perform database entry on a part-time basis, 20 hours per week, from their own home. They might be paid a certain amount from an employer to do so. The person needs to have the ability to continue receiving SSDI, have a percentage of the amount of their SSDI check deducted, receive insurance coverage from their employer as long as it is equivalent to Medicare coverage, and live their life without worrying about losing their SSDI coverage if they should experience an illness or further disability.
The SSDI program would experience savings. The employer would gain through employment of a useful employee. The Medicare program would save money. The person with a disability would be included in society and would be performing useful work. The monies saved in relation to the SSDI and Medicare programs could be used for another person with disabilities, and the programs would be more secure.
If the person with a disability works full-time, their SSDI attachment would not simply disappear. Instead, when their earnings are equal to double the amount of their SSDI check, the person's SSDI check would end. The person with a disability would continue to receive insurance coverage through their employer as long as that insurance was equal to or better than Medicare coverage. Should the person experience an illness or further disability that finds them unable to work - they are instantly re-established on the SSDI program, complete with Medicare.
The savings in relation to the SSDI and Medicare programs could be used for another person with disabilities. The employer is happy because they have a full-time employee who is productive. The person with a disability is happy because they are gainfully employed, included in society, and are performing useful work.
What is needed is legislation making this so, as well as an immense awareness of the abilities of People with Disabilities, who we are, and a great change in the perspectives of the American population in general regarding us. What is needed is jobs for us to perform, the right accommodations, and the ability to work from our own homes using current types of technologies available in many instances.
People with Disabilities who are on or eligible for SSI or SSDI would not simply be dropped from the programs due to employment. People who experience forms of disabilities that qualify for these programs are people who will continue to experience disability. The experience of disability does not; however, mean the person is unable to perform any kind of work in some instances. The SSI and SSDI programs, as well as the Social Security Administration, must evolve to recognize the abilities of People with Disabilities and Seniors. The SSA and the SSI/SSDI programs must become more flexible, for the betterment of all Americans.
National Council on Disability
The Social Security Administration
Ticket to Work