Federal disability policy has been dominated by concerns over growth in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. This paper reviews the past debate over SSDI—framed by a declining U.S. labor participation rate and recent shortfalls in the trust fund that finances benefits—and the latest data on program trends showing that SSDI is now on a more stable path. It discusses how the focus on SSDI led to important reforms in program administration, but has not led to more effective programs to support the employment of people with disabilities. This paper highlights the importance of devoting greater resources to early intervention as the most effective strategy to help newly injured or ill workers stay in the workforce. It identifies an opportunity to expand early intervention efforts through a new universal paid family and medical leave benefit proposal.
This brief is the first in a series from Urban on A New Direction for Disability Policy.