About a week after finalizing a new rule change that is projected to kick about 3.7 million Americans out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as "food stamps," a new report says that the Donald Trump administration is about to make Social Security disability benefits for thousands of Americans who are unable to work for health reasons much more difficult to obtain.
According to the report published Thursday by The Philadelphia Inquirer, the proposed change would affect some of the most seriously disabled Americans, including children, who currently receive disability benefits as "Step 5" recipients.
Individuals classified as "Step 5" typically suffer from such debilitating maladies as crippling back pain, schizophrenia, and severe clinical depression. Most are between the ages of 50 and 65, and have little education or job qualifications, The Inquirer reported.
But under the Trump administration proposal, these "Step 5" recipients would now be classified under a new category titled "Medical Improvement Likely." The new classification would require their benefits to come up for review much more frequently than previously — about every two years, according to the report. The change would burden Social Security recipients with so much new paperwork they will likely be unable to keep up and will lose benefits, experts say.
Under existing rules, Social Security disability recipients come under one of three categories: "Medical Improvement Not Expected," which includes gravely ill persons; "Medical Improvement Expected," which includes children, such as babies born with low birth weight; and "Medical Improvement Possible."
Including the highly disabled "Step 5" recipients as "likely" to improve simply makes no sense, according to Jennifer Burdick, a community legal services lawyer who spoke to The Inquirer.
"There's no medical or scientific basis to say they'll get better," Burdick told the paper, adding that labeling them "likely" to improve marks "a radical departure from past practice."
But the new classification will vastly increase the bureaucratic paperwork the highly disabled recipients will be forced to endure for the more frequent reviews of their status — and heighten the risk that they will lose benefits altogether.
Booting disabled Americans from the Social Security rolls is not only cruel, but it is also bad economic policy, according to New School economist Teresa Ghilarducci, writing for Forbes.
Slashing programs that "help the disabled be fully engaged citizens" prevents those individuals from any possibility that they will rejoin the workforce, Ghilarducci wrote. Instead, the Trump policy appears to be aimed at "warehousing" the disabled.
Under "social-democratic systems" that "integrate individuals with adverse health conditions," such as in Sweden and Denmark, people with disabilities are employed at far higher rates than in the United States where there is "an excessive focus on the development of workfare programs" designed to simply force the disabled to work — or lose their benefits, according to Ghilarducci.
Jonathan Stein, another legal services attorney interviewed for the Inquirer report, said that he believes the true purpose of the Trump administration rule change is to force the disabled off the Social Security rolls — with nowhere else for them to go.
"There's an underhandedness to this," he said.
"It's ideological, not based on medicine or science."