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SSA Proposes Rule Change to Enable More Disability Beneficiaries to Return to Work

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Friday, February 12, 1999 --- Cathy Noe/John Trollinger
For Immediate Release --- 410-965-8904 FAX 410-966-9973

Social Security Administration Seal

News Release

SSA Proposes Rule Change
to Enable More
Disability Beneficiaries
to Return to Work

As part of the Clinton Administration's ongoing efforts to help people with disabilities reenter the workforce, Vice President Al Gore announced today that the Social Security Administration is proposing an increase in the amount that disabled adult beneficiaries can earn while still remaining eligible for benefits. The proposed increase, from $500 to $700 per month, may affect as many as 250,000 Social Security beneficiaries with disabilities.

"This is good news for many of our disability beneficiaries," commented Commissioner Kenneth S. Apfel. "This increase will allow more beneficiaries with disabilities to return to the workforce and enable them to lead more productive, self-sufficient lives."

Current rules state that to become eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, an individual must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) that exceeds $500 per month. In addition, SGA is used as a measure in determining ongoing entitlement for DI benefits. The SGA level is set by the Commissioner through regulation.

"Many beneficiaries are leery of attempting work for fear of inadvertently crossing the SGA threshold and losing critically important cash and medical benefits," stated Commissioner Apfel.

SGA has been increased only once since 1980 and that increase occurred in 1990. The proposed increase would raise SGA to reflect the level of the growth in average wages since 1990.

Currently, less than one half of one percent of disability beneficiaries leave the rolls voluntarily and return to work. Each year since 1991, approximately 400,000 disability beneficiaries have remained on the rolls and have participated in the workforce. The higher SGA level is expected to prompt additional beneficiaries to venture into the workforce.

SSA has been actively involved in Administration efforts to encourage citizens with disabilities to enter the workforce. In addition to the change in SGA, the Administration recently announced its support of legislation sponsored by Senators Jeffords, Kennedy, Roth and Moynihan that would eliminate work disincentives and expand the availability of health care services.

In addition, the legislation includes a "ticket" that would enable DI or SSI beneficiaries to obtain employment, rehabilitation, and/or support services that are tailored to their needs from their choice of either a public or private provider of services.

In 1999, 4.8 million disabled workers are expected to receive Social Security benefits and approximately 4.3 million disabled adults are projected to receive SSI benefits.

"As a nation, we are best served when all of our citizens have the opportunity to contribute their talent, ideas and energy to the workforce. We must continue to seek new ways to ensure that persons with disabilities can share the benefits of our economic prosperity," concluded Commissioner Apfel.

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