Another Disability Disaster in the MakingRoundup
tags: Ronald Reagan, disability rights, disability history
Jonathan M. Stein is a former legal aid lawyer in Philadelphia.
On Nov. 18, the Social Security Administration announced its proposal to conduct roughly 2.6 million additional eligibility reviews of adults and children currently receiving Social Security disability benefits in the next decade. If undertaken, the change would be likely to result in the loss of benefits for many thousands of disabled citizens of all ages — raising the specter of a failed attempt by the Reagan administration in the early 1980s to shrink federal spending on assistance programs. For reasons both political and humane, President Trump and his policymakers should not make the same damaging mistake.
So far, two Democratic candidates, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have publicly warned against the plan. More are sure to follow.
From 1981 to 1984, the Social Security Administration altered an established review process of people receiving Social Security disability benefits that resulted in removal notices for nearly half a million beneficiaries, a large number of them with mental illness. Most of those whose benefits were cut off were clearly eligible and in need of assistance.
I was a lawyer and activist in the 1980s who fought vigorously, along with many others, against what was clearly an attempt by the Reagan administration to reduce federal spending by way of a purge of the disability rolls. We won that battle, to the relief of millions of disabled Americans and their families, but not before it caused serious harm to thousands unjustly removed as beneficiaries. The victory was enshrined in the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984, which set reasonable standards for the eligibility reviews for benefits.