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Bipartisan Bill Helps Americans with Disabilities Seek Work without Losing Benefits

The western front of the United States CapitolWashington D.C, July 9 – On June 17, 2021, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced the Work Without Worry Act. This piece of legislation would allow Americans with disabilities to take on employment opportunities without the fear of losing higher Social Security benefits.

Currently, if an adult has a disability that began before the age of 22, they may be eligible for Social Security’s Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefit. This benefit considers these adults to be dependents on their parent(s) and as such their benefits, like any child under the age of 18, rely on their parent’s Social Security contributions and earnings.

Americans with disabilities who qualify for the DAC benefit with Social Security have life-long disabilities, and many have a desire to explore their ability to gain employment. With the current system, many people with disabilities fear that they will lose their Social Security benefits if they begin working, and unfortunately, this fear is not unfounded. Under the current system, if an individual’s parents have not yet begun receiving Social Security benefits, and the adult with a disability begins working above a certain amount, they could in fact be ineligible for the DAC benefit once their parent retires. The DAC benefit is often higher than any benefit they may qualify for on their own.

The Work Without Worry Act would ensure that the post-age 22 earnings of the individual, regardless of the amount, will not prevent an otherwise eligible individual from receiving the DAC benefit based on their parent’s work history. Also with this legislation, Social Security would take into account the earnings of the disabled individual, meaning that they would receive the larger benefit, whether it be from their parent’s earnings or their own.

“All Americans who wish to work should be able to without disadvantaging themselves in the future,” Sen. Wyden said. “Americans with disabilities and their families rely on Social Security’s earned benefits. This bill lets families know that working – no matter how long or at what level of earnings – will not mean their child with a disability will lose out on a higher Social Security benefit in the future.”

In a recent letter from Social Security’s Chief Actuary, Stephen Goss, the financial effects of this legislation was put into perspective. Goss indicated that in a 75-year long-range projection period, the enactment of this bill would have no significant effect on the Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) actuarial balance, as it would increase OASDI program cost by a negligible amount.

“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, current Chairman of RespectAbility, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act when he was in Congress. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else. The bipartisan Work Without Worry Act would enable many more people with disabilities to do exactly that, without losing critical benefits.”

Other organizations have vocalized their support for the passage of this bill such as The Arc, the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Social Security Task Force, and many more. Towards the end of May, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) wrote a letter in support of the Work Without Worry Act. They stated that “AUCD strongly supports the Work Without Worry Act as one way to further encourage employment among youth with significant disabilities without threatening their, or their families’, future financial viability. We look forward to working in support of its passage.”

According to the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, there are 20,323,689 working-age people with disabilities. In the economic expansion prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, fully 38.8 percent of those people with disabilities had jobs. Currently, the fear of losing Social Security benefits hinders many Americans with disabilities’ growth as they transition into their adult lives. The Work Without Worry act encourages more independence and allows more Americans with Disabilities to have peace of mind as they explore employment opportunities throughout the country.

“Government should encourage work. Americans with disabilities deserve the freedom to work without worry to secure their own financial future,” said Sen. Cassidy.

For more information about how to support the Work Without Worry Act, or to catch up on the latest news on disability policy issues, follow RespectAbility’s work at http://therespectabilityreport.org/.

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Gabriella Marquez
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