Almost a century after the onset of the Great Depression, the legacy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) New Deal continues to have a profound impact on the lives of millions of working Americans. Prior to the implementation of staple New Deal programs like the Social Security Act, a worker injured on the job and unable to continue working and earning an income would often find themselves out of luck. Society may have changed dramatically over the last century, but the effects of on the job injuries and disabilities remain largely unchanged. For millions of hard working American families, an injury or disability is all it can take to spur the onset of extreme financial hardship. Here are some facts and history about the Social Security Disability Insurance Act and how it helped to create and continues to support American workers and their families and dependents.

The Worker’s Safety Net: History of Disability Insurance and Social Security

The Social Security Act, which was enacted in 1935 to help protect and assist Americans struggling under the ravages of the Great Depression, initially did not include the provision for disabled workers and their families. It would actually be another 20 years before the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) would be enacted. Like most public programs that rely on tax revenue, the concept of social security and disability benefits has been consistently met with opposition and undergone a number of changes and compromises since the inception of the program in the 1930s.

The Evolution of Social Security and Disability Insurance

In its initial iteration, the Social Security Act only covered the primary worker. Modern features of the program like survivor benefits for spouses and children, as well as unemployment and disability insurance were added after the initial passage of the law during the Great Depression.

Defining Disability

Coming up with a functional definition of disability for the purpose of administering benefits through the program was a critical factor in obtaining approval from Congress and passage of SSDI into law. Like all aspects of the program, balancing the goals of the program with practical considerations for what could actually get passed into law was a major consideration. According to Edward Berkowitz, the Department of History chair at George Washington University:
…they chose to define disability as “an impairment of mind or body which continuously renders it impossible for the disabled person to follow any substantial gainful occupation,” and was likely to last for “the rest of a person’s life.” Although the Social Security officials sought a strict definition of disability, they knew that, if the program were administered in too severe a manner, then the courts and the Congress would act to make federal officials admit more people to the disability rolls. One of the principal Social Security researchers thought of disability as an elastic concept. “Too strict a system invites pressure to swing in the opposite direction,” he said. His remarks foreshadowed the volatility that would accompany disability insurance after 1956 and in particular the sequence of rapidly expanding rolls in the 1970’s, attempts to stop the growth of the rolls in the early 1980’s, and the rise in the rolls in the later 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Bureaucracy and the Determination of Eligibility for Disability Insurance

Despite the fact that SSDI works like a public, government administered version of a private insurance program where workers pay a premium (in this case payroll taxes) against potential future disability claims, the opposition to the spirit as well as the letter of the law so to speak has been present (and persistent) since the initial drafting of the Social Security Act in the 1930s.
Many of the modern arguments from opponents of the program have been around since the beginning – namely the costs of administering the program and paying out benefits, and the potential for fraud and abuse of the system by people that have not paid their “fair share,” or do not meet the actual definition of disabled and unable to work under the terms defined by the program.

Meeting the Criteria for Disability

As any injured or disabled worker knows, the burdens of being unable to work due to an injury or illness can be felt almost immediately for working families. However the process for obtaining benefits can be long and arduous for many claimants due to the stringent criteria set forth by Congress in order to qualify for disability benefits. In addition to meeting the medical criteria to establish physical or mental impairment, the regulations adopted in the 1950s also suggested that consideration should also be given to factors such as a worker’s age, education, skills and levels of training to determine eligibility under the program.

In most cases, even approved claims will take months to kick in from the time of the initial claim to the first payment. If a claim is denied, an appeals process is available for denied applicants, but it can involve a prolonged and multi-layered legal process at the state and federal level.

Get Help with Your Medical Disability Claims

Navigating the application process for Social Security Disability claims can be frustrating and overwhelming, and errors or omissions on your application can lead to denials or a delay in getting claims approved and receiving benefits. If you have questions about the application process or have been denied, we can help. Contact us today online or call (847) 577-4476 for more information.