September 17 2012
What About Social Security’s $190 Billion Disability Program?
Carrie L. Lukas
Over the past couple months, conservatives have been raising alarms about the Obama administration’s effort to weaken welfare work requirements. Given the $1 trillion deficit and $16 trillion national debt, we should be wary of any steps to unwind successful welfare reforms and return to the days when welfare became a permanent (and all too often debilitating) subsidy for American families.
Yet it’s odd that there has been comparatively little concern about the growth in Social Security’s disability programs. Since 2009, 5.9 million people have been added to the rolls of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. As of August, 10.8 million Americans were receiving SSDI benefits. According to the Congressional Research Service, total spending on federal disability assistance will be approximately $190 billion in FY2012. That’s more than ten times the $17 billion the federal government spends on Temporary Assistance to Needy Family (TANF) welfare benefits.
The real costs of the disability program are actually much larger. People who qualify for SSDI benefits can become eligible for Medicare after two years. Further, those who qualify for the SSI disability program, which assists children or disabled adults living in poverty, immediately quality for Medicaid, food stamps, and a raft of other benefits.
And beyond the dollars and cents, the growing number of Americans classified as disabled in order to become dependents of Uncle Sam is in itself an alarming trend, and threatens the basic concepts of American self-reliance and independence that have been the foundation of our nation’s prosperity.
And not surprisingly, it appears that the SSDI program is often abused. A new investigative report produced by Senator Coburn, ranking member of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation, raises serious questions about whether millions of Americans should be receiving these benefits. Coburn’s investigation reviewed the cases of 300 people who had been awarded disability benefits and found that more than a quarter of them provided insufficient, contradictory, or incomplete evidence.
It appears that many of the questionable decisions are made by administrative law judges (ALJs) that hear hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of cases each year. The Social Security Administration has no representative in the room to defend its decisions (those seeking benefits commonly have lawyers), and the ALJs often swiftly award support even in dubious cases.
Most people probably only think about Social Security disability benefits when they see advertisements for Binder & Binder on television (another depressing symbol of our cultural decline). But it’s time we start taking a closer look at one of the federal government’s largest and potentially flawed programs, which is costing taxpayers billions and expanding the rolls of those who will permanently depend on Uncle Sam for support.