Story at a glance

  • More than 16 million Americans with disabilities receive benefits from the federal government.
  • The proposed change would subject thousands of people to increased reviews, which could lead to them losing their benefits.
  • A comment period for the proposed change was extended until Jan. 31, 2020.

A new rule proposed by the Trump administration would increase scrutiny of thousands of people with disabilities, potentially leading to a decrease in or loss of Social Security benefits. 

“I have serious concerns about this proposed rule,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said to the Philadelphia Inquirer, adding that it “appears to be yet another attempt by the Trump administration to make it more difficult for people with disabilities to receive benefits.”

More than 10 million people receive benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance Program and about another 8 million receive benefits through Supplemental Security Income.

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People applying for benefits are generally assessed under one of three categories: Medical Improvement Not Expected (MINE), Medical Improvement Expected (MIE), and Medical Improvement Possible (MIP). These categories, derived from medical guidelines, determine how often recipients are evaluated for benefits. The Trump administration has proposed a fourth category, Medical Improvement Likely, whose recipients would be reviewed every two years. The proposal also increases the frequency of review for those in the MIE category.  

The proposal says the increased review is intended “to ensure that we continue to identify MI at its earliest point so that beneficiaries who have medically improved and are no longer disabled return to the workforce at the earliest point possible."

This new fourth category would affect 4.4 million recipients, many of who are children and so-called Step 5 beneficiaries. This category includes people with a combination of disabilities who are typically 50 to 65 years of age, in poor health, without much education or many job skills, according to reporting by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Critics of the rule argue that there is no medical reason to label people in this category as “likely” to see improvement in their condition.

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D) told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “These changes seem arbitrary, concocted with no evidence or data to justify such consequential modifications. This seems like the next iteration of the Trump administration’s continued efforts to gut Social Security benefits.” 

The proposal argues that “the flexibility these proposed changes would allow us to determine [medical improvement] at an earlier point than we can under our current rules. Consequently, we expect that the changes we are proposing would enhance program integrity and ensure that only those who continue to qualify for benefits will receive them.”

The changes were proposed by the Trump administration in November 2020. On Dec. 10, the government extended the public comment period by 15 days until Jan. 31, 2020. Comments can be submitted online or via fax or mail. 

Published on Dec 18, 2019