And So I Go: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Disability claims rising sharply at Social Security

Posted on: September 15, 2010

Disability claims rising sharply at Social Security.

I believe this is the most abused welfare program in the government.  I remember as a teenager our neighbor who was on disability waving his arm around and telling my Dad that he couldn’t use that arm at all.  After he left I remarked to Daddy that  if he couldn’t use that arm he was  sure able to wave it around.

Since then thru out my life I have seen many people who get an SSI or disability check every month from the federal government who can play golf, swim in the ocean on their never ending vacation, go to casinos and gamble,  and eat themselves silly ( obesity is now considered a “disability”!).

Now I would be the first to stand up and shut that people who are truly disabled should get some sort of help from family,  friends and neighbors and churches to as they say ‘pursue happiness’. I remember a time when family took care of family and I guess I found that way to be best for all.  Families were held closer and people understood and looked for needs beyond their own selfish wants.

I don’t think the federal government should be handing out my tax dollars however.  And especially when the program is so  poorly (as is usually the case for government programs) that everyone and anyone can get their fingers in the pot.  This goes for every government program!  And as I said above it allows the rest of us to forget or ignore the Bible injunction about charity because we can sit back and tell ourselves that the “government is taking care of it”.

I know many of you are now saying that not all disabilities are apparent.  I agree with you.  It certainly was not apparent that I had scoliosis and severe back and shoulder pain  until  arthritis got into my hips and knees so band that I had to use a cane to walk.  And NO, I am not and have never been and have never applied for disability.   BB

Disability claims rising sharply at Social Security

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The number of former workers seeking Social Security disability benefits has spiked with the nation’s economic problems, heightening concern that the jobless are expanding the program beyond its intended purpose of aiding the disabled.

Applications to the program soared by 21 percent, to 2.8 million, from 2008 to 2009, as the economy was seriously faltering.

The growth is the sharpest in the 54-year history of the program. It threatens the program’s fiscal stability and adds to an administrative backlog that is slowing the flow of benefits to those who need them most.

Moreover, about 8 million workers were receiving disability benefits in June, an increase of 12.6 percent since the recession began in 2007, according to Social Security Administration statistics.

Though policymakers anticipated the program’s rolls growing with the aging of the baby-boom population, they suspect the current surge has less to do with any worsening in the health of the workforce than with the poor health of the economy.

About half of all applicants eventually make it onto the disability rolls – a percentage that has not changed appreciably with the recent spike in applications, Social Security officials say. The average age of new recipients is 49 – and less than 1 percent of them return to work, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  (Why should anyone bother to return to work when they are on a paid vacation for the rest of their life?  BB)

Social Security officials say they are confident that their vetting process screens out most people who might try to get benefits without being qualified. But, they acknowledge, when jobs are scarce, more workers who might otherwise struggle through with their ailments try to secure disability benefits.

In bad times, the disability rolls are swollen by “a lot of older workers who are very much on the margins. Often, they are the first people laid off,” Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said. “They can’t find any new work and they are desperate. So they have every incentive to try and get in the program.”

Applicants must endure a cumbersome process in which government claims examiners, administrative law judges and sometimes federal courts weigh whether they meet the program’s standard of having a disability that prevents them from performing “substantial” work.

The vast majority of applicants turn to a network of lawyers and other advocates to help them fill out the bewildering forms, organize their medical histories and categorize their illnesses in a way that would increase the chances of getting aid.

If applicants are turned down, the counselors – who typically work on a contingency fee that is capped at $6,000 – represent them through the appeals process.  (Must be money in it for lawyers because I see enough expensive TV ads with lawyers asking people to come see them if their disability claims have been denied. BB)

“A lot of people come to me when their unemployment benefits run out and they have no where else to turn,” said Paul W. Nolan, a Baltimore lawyer who specializes in Social Security disability cases. “Many of them are on the border. Maybe in their last job, people were willing to work around their disability. But the economy is less forgiving of disabilities during a recession than when times are good.”

Deciding exactly who can and cannot work is an imperfect science, at best. A generation ago, most disability awards went to applicants suffering from cancer or from heart ailments. But now, more than half of awards go to applicants who claim mental disabilities, such as depression, or musculoskeletal disorders, such as back pain, which are harder for federal officials to disprove.  (Except when you see these people out on the golf course.  As one who has severe back pain I can assure you golfing is not a favored sport! BB)_

“Reasonable people can disagree about a lot of the cases,” Astrue said, noting: “[But] we have kept our standards exactly the same.”

Unlike applicants for Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program, which is aimed strictly at the poor, those vying for the disability program are required to have a substantial work history and a medical issue that prevents them from holding a job for at least a year. SSA turns over the applications to state agencies charged with examining the claims.

Social Security officials say that fewer than 40 percent of applications are approved at that level, typically in just over 100 days. Rejected applicants can ask for reconsideration or appeal to an administrative law judge and, eventually, to the federal courts. Although only a third of applications are appealed, a large majority are reversed.

“It is difficult to navigate that process,” said Ethel Zelenske, director of government affairs for the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, a 4,000-member organization of advocates who represent applicants in the disability application process. “The allowancee rate for people represented at the hearing level is much higher than it is for people who are unrepresented.”

The flood of new applicants is slowing the approval time, which can extend beyond two years in an appeal. And despite the addition of new case examiners and administrative law judges, the SSA has struggled to keep pace, a situation Astrue called unacceptable because it slows benefits to people who are economically desperate.

The bulging rolls of the disability program are not expected to ease any time soon, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It projects that the number of people receiving the benefits will reach 11.4 million by 2015.

The crush of new enrollees is placing an unsustainable financial burden on the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. Currently, the program costs $124 billion a year. Absent changes, the fund, which is financed mostly by a 1.8 percent payroll tax, is projected to be exhausted by 2018.

In the past, lawmakers have addressed such shortfalls by transferring money from Social Security’s retirement fund. But now that move could prove politically fraught, given the growing concern about the future viability of the retirement program.

The recent enrollment surge has accelerated the growth that the disability program had already experienced over the past few decades.  (This says something about our changing ethics when in a time when work is easier and less manual than ever before in history and far more safety and  rest time is allowed workers we have more and more  becoming “disabled”.  BB  )

Economists say the program has grown because eligibility rules were loosened in the 1980s. Moreover, the least-educated segments of the workforce, whose job security has dwindled, are applying in disproportionate numbers for disability.

Between 1984 and 2004, the percentage of male high school dropouts between ages 40 and 54 on the federal disability program rose from 5.4 to 7.8 percent. Those former workers were twice as likely as male high school graduates and five times as likely as male college graduates to receive disability benefits, according to an analysis by University of Maryland economists Mark G. Duggan and David H. Autor, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist.

Social Security disability payments average about $1,100 a month, with benefits for spouses and children averaging about $300 a month more. In addition, people on the disability rolls receive health insurance through Medicare once they have been on the program for two years.  ($1,400 ain’t bad when you consider that food stamps and other benies usually come with this.  BB)

The benefits are modest. But so is the medium wage for high school dropouts, which is $440 per week, according to the Labor Department. The median wage for all workers, meanwhile, is $740 per week.  (“Medium” means one half of the population makes more than this figure and one half makes less.  It is quite different from the “average”  BB)_

As a result, economists say, many low-wage workers who struggle with health problems have fewer incentives to remain attached to the labor force.

The current SSDI system sends a negative message to disabled Americans that they are not valued members of the labor force by making it impossible for them to draw any benefits and work, even part-time,” said Michael Greenstone, director of Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, which is helping to develop possible reforms for the program. “We need to change the incentives around SSDI to reward work.”  (This is typical of most government programs in that a person must receive everything offered under the program or nothing at all and of course are not permitted to work at a job they can do.  Welfare mothers aren’t allowed to work either or they will lose needed benefits like health insurance for their families  which are not part of the early months of employment  in most cases.    this too is our federal and state governments are work!  Brainless!  BB)

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