SSA Disability: SGA Levels Appear to Affect the Work Behavior of Relatively Few Beneficiaries, but More Data Needed

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A letter report issued by the General Accounting Office with an abstract that begins "The Social Security Administration's (SSA) Disability Insurance (DI) program paid $50 billion in cash benefits to more than five million disabled workers in 2000. Eligibility for DI benefits is based on whether a person with a severe physical or mental impairment has earnings that exceed the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level. SSA terminates monthly cash benefit payments for beneficiaries who return to work and have earnings that exceed the SGA level--$1,300 per month for blind beneficiaries and $780 per month for all other beneficiaries. GAO found ... continued below

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United States. General Accounting Office. January 15, 2002.

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A letter report issued by the General Accounting Office with an abstract that begins "The Social Security Administration's (SSA) Disability Insurance (DI) program paid $50 billion in cash benefits to more than five million disabled workers in 2000. Eligibility for DI benefits is based on whether a person with a severe physical or mental impairment has earnings that exceed the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level. SSA terminates monthly cash benefit payments for beneficiaries who return to work and have earnings that exceed the SGA level--$1,300 per month for blind beneficiaries and $780 per month for all other beneficiaries. GAO found that the SGA level affects the work patterns of only a small proportion of DI beneficiaries. However, GAO also found that the SGA may affect the earnings of some beneficiaries. About 13 percent of those beneficiaries with earnings near the SGA level in 1985 still had earnings near the SGA level in 1995, even though the level was increased during that period. The absence of key information identifying the monthly earnings of beneficiaries, their trial work period status, and whether they are blind limited GAO's ability to definitively identify a relationship between SGA levels and beneficiaries' work patterns. Data limitations also make the effect of the SGA on DI program entry and exit rates difficult to isolate. Although the rate of program entry increased in the years immediately following a 1990 increase in the SGA level, it then gradually declined to a level below the pre-1990 entry rates. Since 1990, DI exit rates continue to be driven largely by beneficiary death and conversion to retirement benefits. However, the percentage of all exits caused by improvements in medical conditions or a return to work increased slowly, from 1.9 percent in 1985 to 9.2 percent in 1996, and then rose dramatically to 19.9 percent in 1997. A substantial increase in the number of continuing disability reviews done by SSA may account, in part, for this 1997 upturn, but data limitations preclude GAO from obtaining a full understanding of the link between the SGA and exit behavior."

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Government Accountability Office Reports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for the U.S. Congress investigating how the federal government spends taxpayers' money. Its goal is to increase accountability and improve the performance of the federal government. The Government Accountability Office Reports Collection consists of over 13,000 documents on a variety of topics ranging from fiscal issues to international affairs.

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  • January 15, 2002

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  • June 11, 2014, 5:03 a.m.

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United States. General Accounting Office. SSA Disability: SGA Levels Appear to Affect the Work Behavior of Relatively Few Beneficiaries, but More Data Needed, report, January 15, 2002; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc293434/: accessed July 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.