Sunday, September 19, 2010

Applications for Social Security disability checks soar

An article in the Washington Post [picked up in the hardcopy edition of the Bee, today, in an abreviated form] tells us that Social Security disability applications soared, according to the latest data, comparing 2009 to 2008.

As readers of this blog know [and anyone dependent on the Bee or SN&R or any other major Sacramento news source wouldn't know], disability checks are a huge source of income in Homeless World Sacramento with perhaps half the homeless population getting first-of-the-month checks.

Disability checks 'out here' are often called "happy checks" since they fund considerable use of mind-altering substances - including alcohol, metamphetamine, crack cocaine and marijuana.  The number of people who use services at Loaves & Fishes' mall of homeless services plummets on the first days of every month after "happy checks" have been received.  The population of people in the cul-de-sac at Loaves & Fishes, waiting to get in to Friendship Park, will drop by half or more comparing a day at the end of month to one at the beginning of the next month.  Likewise, at Union Gospel Mission, a situation where men are oversubscribed for the facility's guest dorm will immediate change such that there are empty beds as a new month begins.

As Central Sacramento homeless citizens are likely to know, the Delany Center at the Loaves & Fishes Homeless Mall is where homeless people go in order to learn the ins and outs of applying for SSDI, which pays a minimum of $840/mo [I believe it is] to a homeless person approved for disability.  [Be aware that many solo men get much more than $840/mo.  I understand that one homeless man receives over $1300/mo.]

Homeless people know, from lawyers, that there are disabilities that cannot be confirmed by doctors.  A patient's reported experience of pain cannot be objectively confirmed.  A person's behavior can be misreported or faked during a doctor's interview, "justifying" a bi-polar or depression disability claim.

It is known in Homeless World that an attorney that Delany Center was using to help get homeless people disability approval was repremanded in recent months for being overly aggressive at instructing homeless people how to get approval for Social Security disability benefits.

The Washington Post story tells us that "Applications to the program soared by 21 percent, from 2008 to 2009 as the economy was seriously faltering." And that "about half of all applicants eventually make it onto the disability rolls …"

We are also told,
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
It should be noted, which the article fails to report, that high-school dropouts are likely to have physical-work intensive jobs which can make getting a disability more likely and can mean that any disability a man might get will more likely disqualify the man for employment in his field, than would be the case for a better-educated man.

Thus, a higher disability rate for middle-aged men who are high-school dropouts is understandable. If the news that same-age college graduates have one-fifth the likelihood to be on disability makes sense, I don't know.

Also, the article tells us,
The benefits are modest. But so is the median 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.

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."
But then, of course, there may be little incentive to change the incentives what with soft economy we are going to have for the next decade or more, with the unemployment rate staying above 7%, nationally.

What may need to happen, instead, is that the system of awarding disability benefits needs to be 'tightened.' By that I mean ways need to be found to "means test" those awarded benefits and to assure that those getting benefits are using the funds for life essentials, such as food and rent, and not to fund bad habits, like gambling, and addictions.

The example from Homeless World Sacramento shows that many many disability-check recipients effectively 'double dip,' getting SSDI checks that should be used for life essentials, but are. instead, used to fund addictions. THEN, they use publicly and privately funded homeless-help services for food and shelter and an array of other services. It's a crime without there being a law against it.

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