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Disability Insurance Observer: Amnesty

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Budget hawks have discovered that the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is quite expensive; that the trust fund supporting SSDI is about to run dry, unless it siphons cash from the slightly less doomed Social Security retirement benefits trust fund; and that SSDI return-to-work rates are dismal.

And, of course, the SSDI program is just a somewhat distorted mirror image of what goes on in the private individual and group disability insurance programs.

The private programs may be run according to sane and transparent principles, but, of course, the aging of the workforce, low returns on the government-issued bonds that are officially classified as safe, and the weak job market are plaguing the private disability insurance programs, too.

I thought back to the disability insurance claimants I’ve met — people who did not seem especially disabled, and, in one case, was running a substantial community organizing program — and came up with one possible approach for improving the return-to-work figures: Run the same kind of amnesty program for “disabled” workers who are supposedly not working that libraries run for overdue library books.

Of course, government and private investigators already are out there trying to locate well-employed collectors of disability benefits, but it seems as if the number of off-the-books workers who ought to be turned up is much greater than the number of investigators.

For one month, let people who are collecting private or public disability benefits while working “under the table” bring their under-the-table work to light and continue to collect 75% of their disability benefits for at least 3 years. Protect those individuals against prosecution for violating disability program rules and provide some protection against failure to report income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Maybe, for example, the amnesty program participants could get IRS amnesty in exchange for making a one-time $2,000 cash payment and a $1,000 payment to the Social Security Administration.

If the government did that, it could collect a little revenue, learn a little about the magnitude of the off-the-books “disabled” worker problem, and possible provide clues that the government and private investigators could use to locate some of the disability benefits claiments who decline to participate in the amnesty program.


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