Social Security Disability Insurance:

Raising the Substantial Gainful Activity Level for the Blind

T-HEHS-00-82: Published: Mar 23, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 23, 2000.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level established for blind beneficiaries of Social Security Disability Insurance (DI), focusing on the: (1) differences in employment circumstances affecting people with blindness compared with those affecting people with other disabilities; and (2) potential impact of changes in SGA levels on the DI program and on the Social Security trust funds.

GAO noted that: (1) higher SGA levels have been established for blind beneficiaries primarily on the basis of the assumption that certain adverse economic consequences associated with blindness are unique; (2) few empirical studies have compared the work-related experiences of blind individuals with those of people who have other disabilities; (3) however, the studies that GAO reviewed showed many disabled individuals--blind and nonblind--face adverse employment circumstances; (4) although raising SGA levels for the blind--or even eliminating them--could encourage more blind beneficiaries to work, such changes would perpetuate differences in the treatment of blind and nonblind beneficiaries and could slightly worsen the Social Security trust funds' financial outlook; and (5) moreover, eliminating the SGA level, by removing the connection between benefit eligibility determination and the inability to work, would fundamentally alter the purpose of the DI program.

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