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Testimony by Edward V. Roberts Director - California Department of Rehabilitation U. S. House of Representatives - Select Committee on Aging
MAY 21, 1982
My name is Ed Roberts, and I am Director of the California Department of Rehabilitation and an individual with a severe disability as a result of polio. For many years, I was recipient of social security disability benefits. I have come here today to tell you what is happening to people with severe disabilities in my State as a result of the 1980 Social Security Amendments and the Administration's decision to speed up the Continuing Disability Investigations (CDI).
The California Department of Rehabilitation is proud of its strong record of rehabilitating social security benefit recipients into gainful employment. My agency has for many years rehabilitated three times as many SSI/SSDI recipients as any other state. In fact, whereas only 18% of the rehabilitation caseload nationally is made up of SSI/SSDI recipients, in California they represent 34% of our caseload. Therefore, I believe I can speak from the perspective of an agency that knows a great deal about the rehabilitation potential of this population, and that works vigorously to help people achieve that potential.
I am here today to tell you that thousands of Californians who are too disabled to go to work are being dropped from social security benefits as a result of the CDI speed-up. In April, the Western Law Center for the Handicapped, Protection and Advocacy, Inc., and the Department of Rehabilitation
― 2 ―held a hearing in Los Angeles to hear public comment about the process. I attended the hearing as did Marion Woods, the Director of the California Department of Social Services, who is also here today to testify before this committee. I heard about the person with chronic schizophrenia who received a termination notice at the mental hospital where he had been living on and off for many years. I heard about the woman who committed suicide because she couldn't understand how she could live without her monthly benefits. I heard from an individual who was almost finished with a vocational training program as a rehab client and who was dropped from social security benefits even though there is a section, 301, in the Social Security Amendments that specifically allows the retention of benefits if the person is in a rehabilitation plan. In a little more than 3 hours, I heard close to 40 examples of the agony of people who have lost everything they depended upon to survive.
This is happening all over the country, not only in California.
I shall speak about the CDI process and the SSI/SSDI rehabilitation program. I have some general comments about what it means to be disabled and the factors that determine an individual's capacity for rehabilitation, and how we can influence those factors. I also shall suggest changes in the present legislation that would greatly enhance our ability to achieve these goals.
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When is Severe Disability Too Severe
The CDI process, as it is now being conducted, fails to adequately weight the factors that determine an individual's feasibility for employment. These factors include: the combination of circumstances that further cripple an individual above and beyond his "disability listing"; the reality of pain; the impact of age, lack of training and absence of work experience; the absence of motivation or even hope, the fear of losing benefits if their effort to work fails, societal attitudes toward disability. On top of these, there are the tremendous adjustment problems faced by an individual who has been receiving disability benefits for many years and who sincerely believes that he is "too disabled to work."
I ask you, who is more qualified to make the determination that an individual is or is not "too disabled to work"? The CDI Reviewer or the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor?
Recommendations for Change
I do not quarrel with the intent of Congress to terminate from disability benefits people who can work. But, I do assert that the CDI process, as it is now being conducted, is extremely ineffective. All the CDI process is accomplishing is forcing many people onto general relief and very few into jobs.
The Pickle bill (H.R. 6181) begins to correct some of the problems but it does not go far enough toward making the process more realistic and actually, in Section 5, makes the process less fair.
I recommend that Congress immediately declare a moritorium on the accelerated CDI process while a new procedure is developed which more adequately assesses the severity of an individual's disabilities as these disabilities impact on his ability to work. I further recommend that the SSI/SSDI rehabilitation
― 6 ―system be reinstated with a funding level that is adequate to serve both those on benefits and those to-be-terminated. My use of "to-be-terminated" is purposeful. I urge you to allow a person, who would otherwise be terminated, to retain disability benefits if accepted into a rehabilitation plan. By doing so, you will be providing people with a powerful incentive to move from a position of dependency to independence—a process that is often difficult, demanding and threatening. Finally, I ask you to remove the employment disincentives that now exist in the disability benefit program and that actually work against people achieving their full employment potential.
The funds for SSI/SSDI rehabilitation have disappeared. Instead, additional federal dollars are going into accelerated CDI reviews.
Is that where Congress wants federal funds to go? Into forcing people onto general relief, rather than helping them become gainfully employed, taxpaying citizens?
It doesn't make sense to drop people from benefits and to discontinue their only resource for rehabilitation at the same time.
I urge Congress to rethink the entire process. I suggest that you continue the review process in a manner that is more fair, thorough and thoughtful, and that if you find people who are no longer too severely disabled to work that you provide them with the wherewithal to return to the work force: rehabilitation. I also urge you to allow them to continue benefits while in plan.
Don't go halfway. When people lose their benefits and, in California, their Medi-Cal and IHSS, they are destroyed. Allow them to retain their benefits while in plan and I assert that you will accomplish the same savings or more
― 7 ―as many become employed and taxpaying citizens.
This is the more humane method of cutting our disability benefit costs—by opening up a better life for people rather than reducing them to indigent wards of society.
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There has been an 18.4% increase in total cases, but the number of CDI's has increased 182% and the number of initial evaluations has increased by 1.8%. The allocated staffing went up 30%.
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