On Monday night, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich assailed the food stamp
president, Barack Obama, for enabling a record 45 million people to go on the food dole.
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.
Working age Americans are healthier today than in past decades, according to demographic evidence. Yet an astounding 4.6 percent of the working age population is on permanent disability, up from 0.3 percent when the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) was set up in 1956. Government administrators deciding who is eligible are turning SSDI into a permanent — literally lifetime — unemployment benefit for people uninterested in working or unable to find the job they want.
Congress originally defined disability as “inability to engage in a substantial gainful activity in the U.S. economy.” Stephen Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, has a different view. He testified to Congress on Dec. 2 that “disability is by nature a very subjective concept.”
It depends, Goss said, “on a myriad of issues related to a person’s residual functional capacity, past job experience, desire to work, and availability of suitable jobs.”
Social Security Administration data document that 55 percent of the eligibility decisions are based on factors other than medical.
It’s no wonder the share of the working age population collecting permanent disability payments is higher in the U.S. than in France, Germany or Italy — nations known as hefty welfare states.
Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute testified to Congress the same day that "it is difficult to overstate the role that the SSDI program currently plays in discouraging the ongoing employment of nonelderly adults.”
As SSDI enrollments soared, so have costs. Cash benefits plus Medicare coverage for SSDI recipients shot up from $53 billion in
1979 to $195 billion in 2010.
You are paying the price. Look at your paycheck, and you’ll see that a chunk is taken out for federal payroll taxes. Most of these taxes go into the Old Age Fund, which sends out Social Security checks to people who reach retirement age. But a portion (a 1.8 percent levy) goes to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Fund.
Partly because of soaring enrollments, the Disability Insurance Fund is running out of money even faster than the Old Age Fund, and is expected to be in the red by 2018.
To prop up this disability boondoggle, Goss urged Congress to allocate a bigger share of payroll taxes for disability benefits, taking revenues currently dedicated to the strained Old Age Fund. Draining grandma's future retirement security to fund the free lunch club is the opposite of what Congress should do.
To restore the Social Security Disability Trust Fund’s solvency, Congress should tighten eligibility, limiting it to those medically unable to work at any job. Many government administrators stretch the intent of safety net programs such as SSDI in order to spare clients from having to commute farther, take a job they don’t like, or accept lower pay.
Federal workers, who are covered under a separate disability system, get such extreme guarantees in writing. The rules of the Federal Employee Retirement System say that to be eligible for permanent disability benefits, “your agency must certify that it is unable to accommodate your disabling medical condition in your present position and that it has considered you for any vacancy positions in the same agency at the same grade or pay level, within the same commuting area.” Rules like this make it a certainty that employable workers will go on disability instead.
You’ve seen exposes about policemen and firefighters who claim to be disabled, retire on lavish pensions, and then compete in triathlons. Those are shameful frauds perpetrated by dishonest individuals at taxpayers’ expense. The explosive expansion of SSDI is caused by something different.
The enemy is government. Administrators are promoting dependence as a lifetime alternative to employment.
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