Proposed Social Security change could be costly 

Sarah K. Lanzo, Independent Living

December 27, 2019


Joni Mitchell sang, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."

Less than two weeks ago, we learned about The Inquirer, a British online technology tabloid publication that has had several major international scoops, thanks to a Dec. 12 article on dangerous planned changes in the processes of our Social Security evaluations.

Journalist Alfred Lubrano digested the Social Security Administration's 30-some-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) in the Federal Register titled "Rules Regarding the Frequency and Notice of Continuing Disability Reviews" and spoke to disability advocates. His opening sums it up:

"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 [SSA] determines whether a person continues to qualify for benefits. Few recipients are aware of the proposal, which is open for public comment through January [17, 2020]."

Lubrano described the two principal types of benefits for “Americans who are too physically and/or mentally impaired to work” and gave government figures on their numbers of participants and ranges of cost.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is for people who have worked at least 10 years, currently 8.5 million, and who draw from $800 to $1,800 monthly. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is for low-income recipients who have seldom, if ever, been employed, 8 million of them, who benefit up to $770 a month.

Lubrano notes that, “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. … Those already receiving disability benefits are subject to so-called continuing disability reviews [CDRs], which determine whether they are still deserving of compensation ..."

In its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the SSA proposed adding a fourth classification beyond the current "Medical Improvement Not Expected," which is reviewed every five to seven years; “Medical Improvement Expected,” which is reviewed every six to 18 months; and “Medical Improvement Possible,”  which has varying review periods. Lubrano explained that this planned new “fourth category: 'Medical Improvement Likely,' … would mandate disability reviews every two years, creating an additional 2.6 million reviews over the first 10-year period” for the estimated 4.4 million beneficiaries, many of them children and people who have reached "Step 5."

Separate from the three (or four) Continuing Disability Review umbrella categories, Step 5 is an internal SSA term referring to those whose advanced age and severity of disability makes working “difficult or impossible” and, until this proposal, had been considered worthy to receive SSI or SSDI for the rest of their lives.

Advocates have stated that, running contrary to many years of standard SSA practice, and common sense, including Step 5 people in the “Improvement Likely” category and forcing them to undergo an involved recertification every other year is a cynical ploy to set them up to fail by making qualifying so difficult that many, perhaps hundreds of thousands, who deserve benefits are pushed off the rolls.

If the unfairness of this prospect concerns you, comments can be made on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking — before Jan. 17 — by using this URL: 


Sarah K. Lanzo is the director of Independent Living of Niagara County, a member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. family of agencies that serve individuals with disabilities. For more information, call 284-4131, extension 200.