A Step In the Right Direction for People with Disabilities
The Center for Independent Living Berkeley/Oakland, the World Institute on Disability and the California Foundation of Independent Living Centers salute the bipartisan introduction of the Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 by members of the House Commerce and Ways and Means Committees. The American workplace has everything to gain from this development.
We are living in a period of unparalleled, prolonged economic prosperity and low unemployment in this country. However, for most people with disabilities on the Social Security disability benefit programs, the reality of obtaining employment and self-sufficiency is lower today than it was some ten years ago.
From 1986 to 1995, the number of individuals receiving disability benefits rose almost 70%, to 7.5 million.
Currently there are approximately 9 million people with disabilities receiving benefits, about half on SSDI and half on SSI. Of these, not more than 1 out of every 500 SSDI beneficiaries (leaves) the rolls by returning to work. Only 8.2% of working age SSI recipients had any earnings at all in 1996; of those that did, the average monthly income was only $344.00.
“This system is busted and this bill is like a new box of tools,” states Patricia Yeager of CFILC. “Beneficiaries are trapped in poverty, with average monthly benefit amounts ranging from about $500.00 for SSI to about $700.00 for SSDI. Demoralizing dependency and lack of opportunity define this issue and always have.”
Deborah Kaplan of WID said: “The math is very simple. If 75,000 of the 7.5 million Americans with disabilities, just one percent, become successfully employed, savings in cash assistance would total $3.5 billion over the work life of the individuals. We are beginning, with this bill, to find the operational fit between employment and the Social Security disability programs.”
The Work Incentives Improvement Act will do the following:
- Provide states with the option and incentive grants to setup buy-in programs to extend Medicaid coverage to certain classes of SSDI and SSI beneficiaries who work,
- Extend Medicare for SSDI beneficiaries who work,
- Provide more choice of employment services,
- Establish a consumer controlled Advisory Panel on work incentive programs to counsel the Social Security Administration and other federal agencies,
- Place trained employment technicians in the field offices to disseminate accurate information
- Provide community help for individuals to understand and use the work incentive programs, and
- Establish a $2 for $1 earned income offset demonstration project for SSDI beneficiaries.
There is widespread support in the disability community for this legislation, which has been circulated in our communities and on Capitol Hill for a year. On January 13, 1999, President Clinton unveiled his Administration’s support for the Work Incentives Improvement Act in his employment and disability initiative entitled, “Economic Opportunity for All Americans.” The companion bill was introduced in the Senate on January 28, 1999, and has earned the bipartisan support of 69 Senate cosponsors.
Larry Watson of CIL added: “This is an all important first step after passage of the ADA that will effectively begin to open the door for people with significant disabilities to obtain and retain employment. We pledge to work with House members to help pass it. We acknowledge and thank the leadership of the House members who are introducing this bill.”
-Larry Watson is Executive Director of the Center for Independent Living Berkley/Oakland; Deborah Kaplan is the Executive Director of the World Institute on Disability; Patricia Yaeger is Executive Director of the California Foundation of Independent Living Centers