SSDI budget cuts in Trump’s proposed budget

Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Experts has a good blog post about the proposed cuts in Social Security Disability Income (“SSDI”) benefits in the proposed Trump budget.

The claimed cuts are allegedly about fraudulent SSDI claims by people who can supposedly work. Actual SSDI fraud is minuscule, however.

Furthermore, SSDI benefits represent crucial wages for disabled individuals based on their prior earnings. As the blog post explains:

Through their contributions to Social Security, workers earn a measure of protection against disability retirement and death. (Disability insurance protects a worker against loss of earnings due to a significant work limiting impairment, and workers earn this protection by having worked and contributed to Social Security.) Many of my work-injured employees ultimately end up on Social Security Disability and this protection is particularly important to older Americans. Most people receiving Social Security Disability benefits are in their 50s or early 60s and most had only unskilled or semi-skilled jobs. Without a college degree, benefits are not significant (averaging about $1,200 per month). However, over half of Social Security beneficiaries rely on these benefits for 75% or more of their total income.

There is also already an existing and widespread program in place to encourage and facilitate SSDI benefit recipients returning to regular work. Ticket to work is a free and voluntary program by the Social Security Administration to assist SSDI benefit recipients with returning to the workforce. The employment support efforts available for SSDI benefit recipients are extensive. Presentations and training about the program are also available. The budget proposal from the current President appears to be little more than a massive cut to benefits and training and support without any acknowledgment of the difficulties disabled folk have in the workplace. Because of Ticket to Work efforts, many SSDI benefits recipients are already working limited jobs. They just cannot find the kind of full-time, regular work they once had prior to their disabilities.

Note as well that in Wisconsin, SSDI benefit recipients are prohibited from receiving unemployment benefits. Federal law, however, prohibits a similar disqualification for individuals receiving regular Social Security benefits.

NOTE: Because prohibitions on regular Social Security benefits are not allowed, the prohibition on unemployment benefits when receiving SSDI benefits also ends when an individual’s SSDI benefits become regular Social Security benefits — i.e., when the claimant reaches his or her Social Security retirement age.

Accordingly, Wisconsin employers have a financial incentive to hire SSDI benefits recipients, as these employees are prohibited from receiving unemployment benefits when laid off regardless of the layoff reason.

For those receiving SSDI benefits, however, the budget proposal represents a second strike: having already lost eligibility for unemployment benefits in Wisconsin, they are now slated to lose their SSDI benefits as well.

Trump’s UI budget proposals

Hat tip to Daniel J.B. Mitchell for this article discussing how the current President’s budget proposal could affect unemployment funding:

Trump’s budget presents new challenge to California’s long suffering unemployment fund
John Myers LA Times    5-28-17
After years of the state being deep in debt to the federal government for a loan covering the unemployment benefits of millions of Californians, state government officials have been promising the system was well on its way to stability.
And then came President Trump’s federal budget plan, with new rules and penalties for states whose jobless benefits outpace available dollars.
To understand what might be coming, it’s important to see where we’ve been. Unemployment insurance (UI) offers a weekly stipend of up to $450 for most workers who lose their job. The payments, for a maximum of 26 weeks, are paid from a payroll tax charged to employers.
Not surprisingly, unemployment payments rise and fall with the economy. In 2009, during the worst part of a recession when the unemployment rate hit 12.5% that October, state and federal government money was needed to keep California’s UI fund solvent. Payroll taxes simply couldn’t keep up with demand.
It’s worth noting that analysts saw this problem coming. State lawmakers made unemployment checks larger and raised the minimum wage in recent years, but the state portion of employer contribution rates hasn’t changed since 1984. The recession turned the problem into a crisis.
By the end of 2012, California owed $10.2 billion to the federal government for loans to the state’s UI trust fund. The debt has slowly been paid off, thanks to economic improvement that’s cut unemployment to 4.8% as of April. There’s also been a temporary surcharge on the federal government’s portion of the employer payroll tax. Current estimates are that the state’s UI fund will again be solvent in 2018.
But the president’s budget may present a new wrinkle. The Trump proposal specifically calls for a new “solvency standard” for unemployment funds, a requirement that states keep enough cash in their UI funds to avoid going into the red.
Here’s where things could get dicey. Because California’s UI fund remains in the red, any new federal mandates would almost certainly mean a new short-term cost to employers. The president’s budget suggests states should have enough money to pay unemployment benefits for six months of an “average recession,” though it doesn’t define what that means. States failing to meet the standard would have new limits on loans— the same kind of loans that kept jobless Californians with money in their pockets during the last recession.
Then there’s the reality that the only real solutions for California’s unemployment fund are to permanently raise the employer payroll tax, shrink the benefits or eligibility rules for workers or some combination of the two. An overhaul suggested by the state’s independent Legislative Analyst’s Office last fall included possibly cutting maximum jobless benefits by $75 a week and denying eligibility to some of the state’s lowest income workers.
So what’s driving the effort in Washington? It doesn’t look as ifit’s about being fiscally conservative. The Trump administration budget suggests new rules on state unemployment funds are in preparation for a proposal to create a federal mandatory paid leave of at least six weeks for workers — similar to California’s existing program, and a new mandate to likely be paid out of state UI funds.
Few state officials would disagree that California’s system for helping millions of unemployed workers was unprepared for the last economic downturn and that big changes to its financing system are long overdue. And so maybe the president’s budget plan — even if it fails to fully take effect — could be the needed spark for Sacramento lawmakers to roll up their sleeves on a long-term fix.
This proposal could well affect Wisconsin as well, despite Wisconsin’s unemployment fund being $1.2 billion in the black at the moment. This danger exists because the fund is still historically underfunded, according to the latest Department presentation. As explained in this presentation, the fund’s current “health” is due not to adequate funding so much as to record lows in benefit payments to claimants. Accordingly, modeling how the fund will behave in the future is difficult at best, and three possibilities are available: the historically low benefit payment levels continue, benefit payment levels return to normal, or something in between. Wisconsin’s unemployment fund only avoids danger with the first possibility.

Income tax intercepts coming to employers

Tax intercepts against claimants for recovering over-payments have been occurring for numerous years now. That is, a claimant who owes money to the Department of Workforce Development because of an over-payment has seen the Department intercept federal and state tax refunds due the claimant in order to recover that over-payment. The official name for these tax intercepts is the Treasury Offset Program, or TOP.

The 2013 budget act at the federal level required states to implement treasury offsets for ALL unemployment debts. Wisconsin has previously only applied treasury offsets for collecting claimants’ debts. To continue to receive federal grants for administering unemployment law, Wisconsin needs to make treasury offsets applicable to employers’ debts as well.

To that end, at the February 19th Advisory Council meeting the Department prepared a proposal, D15-03, for implementing a treasury offset against employers. Besides setting forth new and changed statutory language, this proposal explained:

Impact: This proposal is expected to save the Trust Fund approximately $4.3M annually via additional employer state Ul tax collections.

Summary of the Proposal: The Treasury Offset Program (TOP) is a Federal tax intercept collection tool used to collect unpaid debts owed to various government agencies. DWD UI previously implemented TOP to recover fraud and wage non-fraud overpayment debts from claimants. This proposal expands the use of the TOP program to unpaid employer contributions when personal and corporate liability can be assigned. However, the Federal government does not have the functionality to collect from corporate tax accounts at this time. The proposal is written to include corporate accounts for future enhanced Federal capabilities. Expansion of TOP is mandated by the Federal government. Fees are charged by the TOP program directly to the participant and would not affect the UI Trust Fund.

Methodology: Employer tax debt that would be certifiable for TOP is mainly debt from preliminarily closed and closed employer accounts. From 2010-2014 the average yearly amount of delinquent debt due to preliminarily closed/closed accounts is approximately $43M of which approximately 38% is recovered by Ul collections.

In 2012, TOP for claimant benefit overpayments was expanded to include fraud and non-fraud wage overpayments. From 2012—2014 the average annual amount of benefit overpayment debt certifiable for TOP was $25.2M of which approximately $12M was recovered by UI collections, or 48%.

At a 48% recovery rate, approximately $20.6M of employer debt certifiable for TOP would be collected annually. Much of the debt UI already recovered would now be collected with TOP; however, it would be collected more efficiently. Since UI can already collect approximately 38% of TOP certified debt using other collection tools, adding TOP as an additional tool would increase employer debt tax collections by approximately 10% of the certified debt annually. Ten percent of the average $43M employer debt certified for TOP would result in Trust Fund savings of approximately $4.3M annually via additional employer tax debt collections.

Note that while a federal process for applying treasury offsets against corporations is not yet in place, these treasury offsets will certainly take effect against employers whose businesses are included in their personal tax returns, such as limited liability corporations. Accordingly, the Department acknowledges that these offsets will have an immediate effect of $4.3 million in additional collections for employer debts.

At its March 19th meeting, the Advisory Council approved this proposal. As a result, it will be included in the Department’s UI bill along with other changes approved by the council. That bill should be presented to the legislature this fall or winter. So, for the 2016 tax year and perhaps for the 2015 tax year (if the bill is enacted in 2015), employers will have to face the loss of their state and federal refunds if they have unpaid unemployment taxes.

Employer UI taxes going down in 2016

At the May 19th meeting of the Advisory Council, the Department of Workforce Development confirmed that employers’ unemployment taxes will be going down in 2016 because the case balance in the UI Reserve Fund will be $500 million or larger on 30 June 2015.

Currently, employers are paying taxes based on Schedule A tax rates. In 2016, employers will switch to Schedule B. Those employers with negative or overdrawn balances on their individual UI tax accounts will still pay the same tax rate. But, those employers with positive account balances will see a reduction in their unemployment taxes. Two charts — one for small employers and another for large employers — detail the reductions.

New employers will also see an immediate reduction. Small employers will go from 3.6% to 3.25%, and new, large employers will see their UI tax rate decline to 3.4%, down from 4.1% (the difference between small and large employers are whether taxable payroll is under or over $500,000 — keep in mind as well that taxable payroll for UI purposes is only the first $14,000 in wages being paid to an employee, so a large employer for UI purposes has around 36 employees).

Back in November 2013, the Department presented the Advisory Council with various charts about how unemployment taxes and tax rates were spread across industries. Page four, in particular, shows that manufacturing accounted for almost 25% of the payroll subject to unemployment taxes even though manufacturing jobs were 16.4% of the labor force. Other data available in this handout concerns negative account balances by industry (see p.5). Not surprisingly, construction has the most employers and the total negative balance for those employers was nearly $20 million in October 2013. For those in construction or manufacturing, the charts on pp.7-9 provide comparative data you might find useful.