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Disability Program Under Attack

by Joshua Eyestone on February 2, 2012 · 0 comments

in Questions & Answers,Basics of SSD,Disability News

The Social Security Disability program is under attack.  The Wall Street Journal, Newsmax, and other conservative publications began writing about the disability program over the past several months.  Unfortunately, these articles portray the program in a very negative light.

The negative articles suggest fraud or abuse within the disability program is common.  Several of these articles make conclusions that suggest the disability program is running out of money.  My opinion is that these articles have political motivations behind them, and it seems that forces are in motion to change the disability program in a way that makes it harder to qualify for benefits.

The Social Security Disability (SSD) program helps millions of injured and disabled workers each year get cash benefits and health insurance when they cannot work due to limitations from medical conditions.  With a system used by over 5 million Americans of course there are instances of fraud or abuse in the program, but to label SSD a fraud, or an “abused system” is not at all fair or backed up by facts.

Anyone currently on disability benefits should not worry about their monthly payments changing anytime soon as a result of these attacks.  But anytime we hear voices of change coming after a program that helps the poor and disabled we need to learn the facts to see what’s really going on.

What’s Really Going On with SSD?

Before we talk about potential changes to the disability program, it’s worth reading a representative quote from a recent article on Newsmax.com that makes largely untrue statements about people on disability benefits.

“Food stamps are only one part of the dependency boom.  More Americans are also choosing to go on lifetime disability, even though they are capable of holding a job.”

Our current disability rules deny virtually everyone who applies who is capable of holding a full time job.  This quote also infers that people are “choosing to go on lifetime disability” when that is not possible under the current law either.  Disability law allows Social Security to review the disabled anytime to check to see if they have improved after benefits are awarded, the disabled cannot opt to be permanently disabled.

In reality, disability benefits are nearly always paid to people who have proven that they are unable to work as a result of a serious medical condition that is either terminal, or severe enough to last more than a year.  There have always been people unable to work due to medical problems, so why now is there a crisis with the program?

Although many of the recent articles conclude the disability program isn’t sustainable at current payout rates, the articles also suggest abuse in the SSD program is responsible for the recent growth in people filing for disability benefits.  But there is no study or data that suggests a recent surge in abuse or fraud within the disability program.  These negative articles merely discuss a single story of alleged abuse, and then falsely lead their readers to conclude the entire system is broken.

The tough economy is largely to blame for the recent increase in disability application filings.  Everyone knows that in a good economy employers must work hard to find trained workers.  Job postings are everywhere, and few people are applying for jobs (since they already have a job.)  In such good economic times employers will often put up with workers who are less than 100% productive since the employers don’t have much choice in a tight labor market.  So in good times many employers give the disabled a pass, and accommodate their problems since other workers are in short supply.

In a bad economy however, like we are in now, employers do have a choice.  When employers have many healthy people applying for their job openings it leads them to not settle for a person who would be less than 100% productive.  In a tough economy there are not many employers who tolerate the accommodations that the disabled need at work.  The disabled are often times the first to go when times are tough.

The rise in applications due to the poor economy is temporary, and not a new “dependency boom” as Newsmax puts it.  When the economy gets going again the application rates for disability benefits will drop, and many disabled will leave the program and get paid more from an employer willing to accommodate their medical problems.  The disability program doesn’t need a radical overhaul, just continued oversight.

Make Your Voice Heard

Anyone who supports Social Security’s Disability program should take steps to make sure your elected officials know that you support taking care of injured and disabled Americans through the SSD program.  I suggest mailing a short letter to either your Congress person or Senator to counter the negative portrayal of the disability program in recent media.

It’s time for the disabled community to have their voices heard too.  Tell your representative we don’t need a radical redesign of the disability program, if anything we need better healthcare, and more reasonable cost of living increases for those who meet the eligibility requirements of the program.

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