Roughly nine million Americans currently rely on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). According to the latest annual report by the fund’s trustees, the program is set to be depleted by 2023, at which point it will only be able to pay 89 percent of current benefits.

In October 2015, Congress passed a temporary measure to ballast the SSDI program, allowing it access to about $150 billion in revenues over the next three years from Social Security’s Old-Age & Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust fund. Despite the transfer, the trustees reported that the SSDI program fails the test of short-term financial adequacy since its reserves will remain below its yearly costs over the next decade. And Since Social Security’s OASI program is even more beggared, continued revenue transfers are unviable.
Twenty-two years ago, when Congress similarly siphoned funds from the OASI program to supplement the SSDI program, Social Security’s Trustees cautioned Congress that it needed to reform the SSDI program or it would find itself similarly troubled in 2016. Instead of structural reform, the 114th Congress has employed the same unsustainable measures that were applied before. Yet now, the situation is fundamentally worse. The SSDI program still fails the Trustees’ test of short-term financial adequacy, and the program is expected to require another cash infusion in seven years’ time instead of twenty-two.  
Worse yet, the number of SSDI beneficiaries has surged over the past 60 years since the program’s inception. In 1960, 0.5 percent of the working-age population received SSDI benefits. Yet, despite significant improvements in healthcare and technological advancements, the percentage of the working-age population that receive SSDI benefits has climbed to 5.1 percent as of 2014—an increase of over ten times.
A study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco argues that much of the increase in the number of SSDI beneficiaries is likely due to broadened qualification criteria and a higher relative value of benefits.  Similarly, according to a recent report from the Heritage Foundation, SSDI “has increasingly become an early retirement and long-term unemployment program serving not only the disabled who truly cannot work, but also the marginally disabled who, while having a harder time working, are able to hold down certain jobs or work part time.”
SSDI was established to assist those who cannot work and age, level of experience, and ability to speak English are poor proxies for that ability, yet SSDI’s grid rules—an assortment of criteria used to measure disability—allow  individuals to receive SSDI benefits if they are over fifty, unable to speak English fluently, and have limited education.
Non-medical eligibility criteria like these are involved in almost half of all SSDI awards. According to a working paper from the Mercatus Center, reforming these criteria could lower “the approval rate for disability claims in that age group [working-age adults] by as much as 30 percent.”
Not only does SSDI grant benefits to many unnecessarily, it often leaves those who need benefits most urgently without a quick disability determination. After having to wait a mandated five months between becoming disabled and applying for benefits, applicants regularly wait a year or more before receiving a determination—leaving  the disabled without financial support and potentially accelerating their deterioration.
When President Eisenhower signed SSDI into law, he said that the government will, “endeavor to administer the disability [program] efficiently and effectively… to help rehabilitate the disabled so that they may return to useful employment.” Congress should reform the SSDI program with those words in mind—before it runs out of money again.
Michael Shindler is an advocate at Young Voices.  Follow him on Twitter here.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.