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SSD bill would require return to work for some

Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries in New Jersey may not be able to keep their monthly subsistence payments for life or for the long-term under a proposed bill in Congress. The proposed Return to Work Act of 2017 would impose specific term limits on SSD benefits for beneficiaries that were assessed as being able to recover and return to work.

SSD benefits would automatically terminate in two years where a beneficiary's condition is expected to improve. Where improvement is deemed likely, these benefits would end after five years. Benefits would not automatically end where improvement is not possible or expected.

Recipients with terminated benefits would need to reapply. They would have to establish proof of disability again. Prior disability status would not have any weight in establishing disability, however, in these proceedings.

The bill would provide vocational aid for recipients. It would also provide more opportunities for recipients to earn income while keeping SSDI benefits for the newly-prescribed periods. However, federal regulations issued after this proposal is enacted could ultimately determine its impact.

The proposal, introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep. French Hill of the Arkansas delegation to Congress, is intended to reduce the growth of the SDDI program. It grew from 1.4 million beneficiaries in 1970 to 9 million today and its costs rose from $20 billion to $137 billion in that period. Senator Cotton also cited figures that the percentage of recipients which left SSDI and returned to work was half of one percent.

The Social Security Administration, however, also issued figures stating that 8.81 percent of SSDI recipients were terminated from benefits. This was 830,0444 out of 8,808,736 individuals.

The bill does not address the SSDI appeals process which has contributed to cost of the program. A large number of applicants who were initially denied benefits ultimately received approval after their appeal is processed. This rose to over half of applicants receiving approval when they were represented by an attorney.

An attorney may help applicants meet requirements and pursue an appeal when they are denied Social Security. A lawyer may also assist beneficiaries with keeping their benefits.

Source: Nonprofit Quarterly, "New bill seeks to shrink SSDI through mandatory benefit termination," Louis Altman, March 20, 2017

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