Economic policy

Trump’s disability cuts are bad economic policy

Like Halley’s Comet, the idea of ​​people faking disability claims comes up regularly. The recurrence does not occur seasonally, but politically: Republicans are more likely to propose cutting disability benefits. In 2019, it is Democrats who oppose the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, which targets people with disabilities. Sadly, Trump may think he can manipulate latent biases against people with disabilities. This approach would not only harm people with disabilities; it would harm the economy as a whole.

Reducing benefits is bad economic policy

By cutting funding to programs that directly help people with certain types of disabilities*, research the causes of disability**, and help people with disabilities become fully engaged citizens***, we are missing an opportunity to engage a hand – of productive work. Simply put, it makes no economic sense to cut programs that help people with disabilities work, live in their own homes, access their jobs, and access the opportunities that all Americans enjoy.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is proposing to take an already inadequate system and make it worse. The integration of disabled working-age adults is part of an economic strategy and the choice is clear: Do we have a society and a set of policies aimed at hiring or warehousing? Currently, the United States leans too much towards the latter.

Comparative studies show that the employment rates of disabled workers are relatively high in the Nordic countries. In Sweden and Denmark, people with disabilities are much more likely to work because these nations with social democratic systems better integrate people with health problems.

In the United States and the United Kingdom, meanwhile, workers with disabilities are more often unemployed and otherwise excluded from the labor force, thanks to an excessive focus on developing workfare programs that encourage participation in the labor force. active as the primary means of achieving equality. Indeed, the cost savings sought by the Trump administration are linked to a proposal to “test new approaches to increasing labor market participation”. This approach resulted in a limited political orientation which does not take into account all the economic and cultural steps necessary to ensure parity in the participation of persons with disabilities. Investments in active labor market policies can improve the employment of people with chronic conditions.

US policy has provided employers with little incentive to economically hire people with disabilities. First, we have no cultural commitment to ensuring that workers with disabilities have the opportunity to work in the paid labor market; in fact, research suggests that accommodating people with disabilities is sometimes seen as unfair. Second, US employers have little financial incentive to help workers with disabilities stay on the job, since the government does not coordinate employers’ actions with the particular needs of employees.

Research shows the obvious: poor health is one of the main determinants of early retirement. But depending on a nation’s policies, poor health is not necessarily a barrier to labor market participation. Work primarily depends on the broader context of an economy and policies that can help or hinder the employment of workers who are not entirely healthy.

Misplaced blame

Proposed $72 billion cuts to disability programs include cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Not only is this a betrayal of Trump campaign promiseit hurts one of the most vulnerable groups in the country.

SSDI allows people below retirement age, after two years of proven disability, to obtain disability and Medicare benefits. Since people with disabilities often leave their careers early, the benefits are quite low – the average is $1,234 per month. And despite ongoing accusations of fraud from the right, the disabled are among the most vulnerable in society. As a group, they don’t pretend—persons with disabilities are three to six times more likely to die than people in their age group who are not on disability.

The United States has historically had among the lowest levels of long-term disability benefits. It’s pretty hard to get on SSDI-less than 4% of the working-age population receives such benefits, although rates have increased over the past three decades. While opponents of disability benefits might see it as evidence of falling standards, the basic reason for the increase is that millions of women entered the workforce in previous generations and therefore became eligible for apply for a disability.

To understand the stubborn persistence of disability, it is essential to recognize that in determining disability, the SSDI program considers a number of factors in addition to a person’s health status, such as level of accommodation offered in the workplace and the wages and working conditions of available jobs. Disability means more than difficulty with routine activities. Eligibility requires a worker to be “unable to engage in substantial gainful activity in any employment in the economy for at least one year.” “Substantial gainful activity” refers to any job that generates income of $1,180 per month for most people across the national economy.

The economic environment has a lot to do with a person’s disability claim. Structural changes in the economy, including declining employment and wage prospects for low-skilled workers, have made disability benefits more attractive, as Economic Policy Institute showed. However, this effect is difficult to quantify. It is much easier to get someone to stay in the workforce with their physical and mental disabilities than to get someone back into the workforce who has left it. This is why programs that help disabled stay engaged and being accommodated at work are important and practical.

What is the next step for people with disabilities and people at risk of disability?

On April 2, Senators Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote to Trump’s budget director, Mike Mulvaney, expressing concern over the cuts and asking to reinstate funding recommendations. As the senators wrote:

“You proposed $84 billion in cuts, mostly to Social Security disability insurance. These are funds that support hard-working Americans who have developed disabilities during their lifetime. The workers who would be denied benefits under your cuts are people who have not only contributed to our economy for decades, but who have also paid into the Social Security Disability Fund. Our government has promised working Americans that if they work, grow our economy, and develop a disability, we will take the funds they have paid into their taxes to provide care, relief, and dignity.

Trump’s cuts won’t help the disabled to work. And in the end, that’s exactly what sensible politics should do.


*Examples include the Traumatic Brain Injury Program, Paralysis Resource Center, Alzheimer’s Disease Program, Lifespan Respite Care Program, Autism Surveillance Program, Independent Living Centers, Limb Loss Resource Center, Gallaudet University, and State Council on Developmental Disabilities.

** Examples include University Centers for Developmental Disabilities, National Institute for Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research.

*** Examples include the Disability Voting Access Program, state assistive technology programs, National Caregiver Support Program, Native American Caregiver Support Services Program, Interagency Coordinating Committee on Autism, Office of People’s Employment Policy Disabilities and Section 811 Housing for the Disabled.