President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform required recipients to work as a prerequisite to a government check. It led to more Americans participating in the workforce and a remarkable reduction of the welfare rolls.
Taxpayers and the recipients themselves benefited.
But those tight work requirements were loosened considerably in the Obama years, as were the eligibility rules for disability claims. Both were at least partially responsible for the huge increase of people no longer in the workforce (up to 40 million in the 25 to 64 age bracket).
Fortunately, that trend is suddenly being reversed thanks to President Trump's vibrant economy. The number of Social Security Disability (SSDI) applications this year is at the lowest rate in 16 years. Another positive trend is the new administration’s formulating of rules requiring work for Medicaid.
It’s about time.
With all the debate over the healthcare bills, little attention focused on how the explosion of Medicaid can fundamentally change the basic underpinnings of American society.
The media gushes over how millions of Americans now get health insurance thanks to the expansion of Medicaid. They fail to mention that once you become dependent on that program, rather than through an employer, you can be forever trapped by being on the dole. That means you become more concerned about keeping your eligibility for Medicaid, and the healthcare it bestows, than upon advancing on a career path with promotions, higher wages — or even getting a job in the first place.
Medicaid ballooned by $100 billion between 2013 and 2015, while food stamp rolls grew 36 percent in the decade prior to the Trump administration.
Simultaneously, workfare requirements were being gutted.
Even further overlooked is the fact that Supplemental Security Disability Income had grown from 4.3 million in 1990, to 6.7 million in 2000, to 8.6 million today. This left us with one in 19 Americans collecting a disability check while not being fully employed.
Did the American workplace suddenly get infinitely more dangerous over the last 20 years? Hardly. Our work conditions have never been safer.
In 2013, former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., through a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee report, exposed the fact that many residents in West Virginia waited for their 99 weeks of unemployment to expire in the midst of the Great Recession, only to turn around thereafter and apply for disability benefits.
Remarkably, 15 percent of the state’s population was on disability. It's emblematic of an explosion of an underclass that could forever be dependent on a government check and lose all incentives to rejoin the workforce.
While no one was looking, lawmakers quietly liberalized provisions that opened the floodgates for mere stress or back pain to be a qualifier for disability benefits. These categories are among the fastest growing in the system.
How many of us over 40 don't have stress or back pain?
1.3 million additional recipients were added during the Obama years through 2015, due to an expediting of the administrative process that overwhelmingly sided with the applicant.
The nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) noted that rules were changed to allow for more weight on self-reporting, relaxed screenings of mental illness, and the accepting of medical evidence from the applicant's own doctor — while no taxpayer advocates were involved in the process.
Those on disability also qualify for Medicare. And because the Feds foot the whole disability bill, while only providing 50 percent of many Social Services costs such as food stamps, at least one state,Missouri, was actually paying a consultant (Public Consulting Group) to move people from their welfare rolls and onto disability.
As Chana Joffe-Walt wrote in her staggering article for NPR's "Planet Money," " . . . disability has also become a de facto welfare program for people without a lot of education or job skills." Her report further indicated that, "Once people go onto disability, they almost never go back to work."
Perhaps, until now.
The tax cut plan and its resulting kick-start to the economy has boosted job opportunities and consumer confidence. Greater hope equates to greater motivation. Add to that an increase individual dignity by tying benefits to a requirment to work.
The administration should go further to require that anyone on disability, who has not lost his limbs or eyesight, or isn’t undergoing treatment for a terminal disease, report to an employment site established by local government and be given a job — even if it is filing papers.
Pay these individuals the same they get right now. While there won't be direct savings there, a massive amount will be saved by weeding out fraudulent applicants.
Since those applicants have to report to a designated location 40 hours a week anyway, we'll see how fast they say their stress isn't all that bad and perhaps they can do their old job, and get paid by their employer, rather than the taxpayer.
Steve Levy, former New York state assemblyman, Suffolk County executive, and candidate for governor, is now a distinguished political pundit. Levy's commentary has been published in such media outlets as Washington Times, Washington Examiner, New York Post, Albany Times, Long Island Business News, and City & State Magazine. He hosted “The Steve Levy Radio Show" on Long Island News Radio, and is a frequent guest on high profile television and radio outlets. Few on the political scene possess Levy’s diverse background. He’s been both a legislator and executive, and served on both the state and local levels — as both a Democrat and Republican. Levy published Bias in the Media, an analysis of his own experience, after switching parties, with the media's leftward slant. Levy is currently Executive Director of the Center for Cost Effective Government, a fiscally conservative think tank. He is also President of Common Sense Strategies, a political consulting firm. To learn more about his past work and upcoming appearances, visit www.stevelevy.info. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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