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Vice President Proposes New Regulation To Improve Work Incentives For People With Disabilities, Including People With Serious Brain Disorders

Chris Marshall 703-524-7600
For Immediate Release
12 Feb 99

In a press conference today scheduled for 1:00 p.m., Vice President Al Gore, along with Social Security Commissioner Ken Apfel and Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, will announce a proposed increase in the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level for recipients of SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance). Currently, SSI and SSDI receipients are allowed to earn up to $500 dollars a month without losing their benefits. The new regulation would allow recipients to earn up to $700 dollars a month. As many NAMI consumers and family members are aware, the existing rules governing SGA severely restrict people with serious brain disorders from seeking employment and regaining their dignity.

Below is an article from today's New York Times reporting on this announcement and a White House press release.

White House Proposes More Generous Payments to Disabled

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration on Friday will propose a more generous policy regarding the payment of cash benefits to disabled people under Social Security, administration officials said Thursday.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the government will propose an increase in the amount of money that people may earn while receiving disability benefits.

The limit on earnings is now $500 a month, and it has been at that level since January 1990. The commissioner of social security, Kenneth Apfel, will propose a rule increasing the limit to $700, officials said. After reviewing public comments, the commissioner has the authority to make the change, which would take effect on June 1.

Vice President Al Gore plans to announce the proposal on a visit to Albany, N.Y., on Friday. "By proposing an increase in the allowable monthly earnings from $500 to $700 a month -- a 40 percent increase -- we are enabling Americans with disabilities to make the most of their abilities," Gore says in the text of his prepared remarks.

Social Security officials said the change could help 250,000 people a year. Those who receive disability benefits are automatically eligible for Medicare after a two-year waiting period, and for many, the Medicare coverage is even more valuable than the cash benefits.

Among those who sought the change is Tipper Gore, the vice president's wife. Since the early 1980s, she has been a zealous advocate for people with mental illness and retardation.

Martha Ford, a lobbyist for the Arc, formerly known as the Association for Retarded Citizens, welcomed the proposed change. "This is an important step, long awaited, and it will help a lot of people," she said. "It will make a significant difference for lower-income workers who are severely disabled and need continued support."

Ms. Ford said the change would benefit many people with disabilities who work at food service jobs or at entry-level positions in supermarkets and retail stores. Disabled workers earning $500 to $700 a month are now ineligible for benefits, but could qualify under the new policy.

The administration plans to make a similar change in a related program known as Supplemental Security Income. The White House said the changes, taken together, would cost the government $1.2 billion over five years. Social Security benefits for disabled workers now average $733 a month.

Administration officials did not suggest any specific way to pay for the added benefits, but said the cost would somehow be covered in the overall context of a balanced budget.

With unemployment now at 4.3 percent, the lowest level in 28 years, many employers have difficulty finding workers, and some say they are more willing to hire people with disabilities. Because of recent increases in the minimum wage, now $5.15 an hour, workers with disabilities are more likely to reach the earnings limit of $500 a month.

While people with disabilities have not generally been viewed as a big voting bloc, disability rights have won bipartisan support. President Clinton recently proposed a new tax credit and new health insurance options to help people with disabilities go back to work.

Two Republican senators, William Roth Jr. of Delaware and James Jeffords of Vermont, have joined Clinton in supporting a bill that would expand Medicaid and Medicare so disabled people could retain their health benefits when they return to work. Former Sen. Bob Dole, himself a disabled war veteran, urged Congress last week to pass the bill as a way to increase the number of disabled people who work and pay taxes.

Under federal law, a person is said to be disabled if he or she is unable to engage in "substantial gainful activity" because of a physical or mental impairment that is expected to cause death or to last 12 months or more.

Under the current rules, if a person is earning more than $500 a month (after subtracting certain work expenses), the person is considered to be engaging in substantial gainful activity and therefore not disabled.

The ultimate objective of the new policy is to help disabled people get jobs and become self-sufficient. "If even a small fraction of the people receiving disability benefits could go to work," Gore said, "we would save billions of dollars in the long run."

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company


February 12, 1999

Today, Vice President Gore is unveiling a new regulation that will take important new steps that will improve economic opportunities for at least 250,000 Americans with disabilities. This regulation will increase the amount of income Americans with disabilities receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), can earn --from $500 to $700 per month --and still receive critical cash and medical benefits. The unemployment rate among all working-age adults with disabilities is nearly 75 percent. People with disabilities can bring tremendous energy and talent to the American workforce, but there are many barriers that often limit their ability to work, including the fact that they lose their disability benefits and health care coverage when they return to work. This means that many people with disabilities are put in the untenable position of choosing between critical protections and work.

"This is a long overdue and greatly appreciated shift in public policy that will allow many Social Security beneficiaries to become more productive citizens, earn more money, and retain essential health benefits, said Paul Marchand, Chair of the Consortium for People With Disabilities. I commend the Clinton-Gore Administration for its series of public policy initiatives, which will greatly promote economic opportunities for people with disabilities."


The Vice President is announcing a new proposed regulation to increase the (SGA) level from $500 to $700 per month. Under current rules to become eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, an individual must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) that exceeds $500 per month. SGA is also used as a measure in determining ongoing entitlement for SSDI benefits and those who exceed this amount lose their disability benefits and health insurance. Each year, approximately 400,000 disability beneficiaries participate in the workforce. Many hesitate to work because they cannot afford to give up critical benefits. Increasing the SGA level would enable more disabled beneficiaries to work more. This initiative costs $1.2 billion over five years and is paid for through the traditional regulatory and administrative process.


The regulation the Vice President unveiled builds on the comprehensive initiative that the Administration has proposed to improve economic opportunities for people with disabilities, such as:

Including the Work Incentives Improvement Act in the Presidents budget. Health care -- particularly prescription drugs and personal assistance -- is essential for people with disabilities to work. The Administrations FY2000 budget which includes the Work Incentives Improvement Act, which was recently introduced by Senators Jeffords, Kennedy, Roth, and Moynihan. This proposal, which costs $1.2 billion over five years, would:

  • Improve access to health care by: (1) Expanding states ability to provide a Medicaid buy-in to people with disabilities who return to work whose assets and/or income exceed current limits; (2) giving states the option of offering the buy-in to people who do not meet the current disability standard, but who can work only because of medical treatment or for those with a specific physical or mental impairment that is not yet severe enough to qualify for health care assistance, but that is reasonably expected to lead to a severe disability in the absence of medical treatment; and (3) extending Medicare coverage for people with disabilities who return to work.
  • Modernize the employment services system by creating a ticket that will enable SSI or SSDI beneficiaries to go to any of a number of public or private providers for vocational rehabilitation. If the beneficiary goes to work and achieves substantial earnings, providers would be paid a portion of the benefits saved.
  • Create a Work Incentive Grant program to provide benefits planning and assistance, facilitate access to information about work incentives, and better integrate services to people with disabilities working or returning to work.

Providing a $1,000 tax credit for work-related expenses for people with disabilities. The daily costs of getting to and from work, and being effective at work, can be high if not prohibitive for people with disabilities. Under this new proposal, workers with significant disabilities would receive an annual $1,000 tax credit to help cover the formal and informal costs that are associated with employment, such as special transportation and technology. This tax credit, which will assist 200,000 to 300,000 Americans, will help ensure that people with disabilities have the tools they need to return to work. The credit will cost $700 million over 5 years.

Improving access to assistive technology. This new initiative would accelerate the development and adoption of information and communications technologies that can improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and enhance their ability to participate in the workplace. The initiative would: (1) help make the Federal government a model user of assistive technology; (2) support new and expanded state loan programs to make assistive technology more affordable for Americans with disabilities; and (3) invest in research and development and technology transfer for people with disabilities. It would cost $35 million in FY 2000, more than double the governments current investment in deploying assistive technology.

Taking action on all of the Task Force Recommendations. In December, the Vice President accepted the report of the Presidents Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities, took action on some recommendations immediately, and pledged that the Administration would review others in the budget process. The Administration has now taken action on all of the Task Force recommendations.