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WASHINGTON -- Two Republican members of the Arkansas congressional delegation have introduced legislation that would make it harder for millions of people to indefinitely receive federal disability benefits.

Under the Social Security Disability Insurance Return to Work Act, those qualifying for disability assistance would be placed in one of four categories: medical improvement expected; medical improvement likely; medical improvement possible; and medical improvement not expected.

If improvement is expected, the Social Security Disability Insurance aid would automatically be cut off after 24 months. If recovery is likely, the benefits would end after five years.

Those classified as "improvement expected" or "improvement likely" would be able to reapply for disability benefits. But they'd have to prove all over again that they're disabled. The fact that they had already been classified as disabled would "have no evidentiary weight," the legislation states.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Dardanelle and U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock introduced identical legislation last year.

U.S. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are co-sponsors of this year's Senate version.

In an interview Monday, Cotton said his legislation would focus the Social Security disability program "where it should be focused, which is those people with severe disabilities who cannot possibly return to work."

When someone with a disability is not expected to recover, their payments would continue indefinitely.

The Social Security disability program has grown sharply over the years. In 1970, 1.4 million Americans received the disability checks. By 2016, that figure had climbed to 8.8 million. Spending has also increased sixfold.

Spending [in 2012 dollars] has climbed from $20 billion to $137 billion, the lawmakers said in a press release.

Fewer than one out of every 200 recipients each year finds a job and leaves the program, Cotton said.

"The program today is ineffective in returning people to work. That's in large part the way the program is administered," Cotton said. "The enforcement scheme today is very lax and one reason why there is so much fraud in the disability system and one reason why its finances are so unstable."

Under the new system, "you'd see a doctor, you'd see an occupational specialist" before you could be recertified to receive Social Security disability payments, he added.

Hill said disability program spending is undercutting the entire Social Security system.

"We've over the years shored up Social Security disability by taking money out of the Social Security trust fund, something that all of us have that we pay into," he said. "This would not only help people get back to work, but it would also improve the solvency in the social security trust fund."

The legislation would also make it easier for disability recipients to re-enter the workforce, Hill said.

Those making a transition back into the workforce would be able to make more money without forfeiting their disability checks, he said.

Changes like this one would "help the people that truly need the help and then save the taxpayer lots of money over the years," he added.

A Section on 03/16/2017

Print Headline: Bill aims to add disability-aid limits

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