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The exploding rise in Social Security Disability benefits *or* The 100-Ton Elephant in the Room

The fastest rising cost for Social Security isn’t retiring baby boomers, but skyrocketing Disability Insurance benefits. Disability benefits now make up 18 percent of all Social Security costs, up from only 10 percent in 1990. This year, the federal government will spend $125 billion for disability benefits. Including the Medicare benefits that are paid to D.I. recipients, total expenditures approach $200 billion.
Above, the words of Andrew G. Biggs, writing for the New York Times in a piece titled "The Disability Insurance Monster."

The explosive rise in disability benefits is the 100-ton elephant in the room in any discussion about homelessness.  It is the "third rail of homelessness"; the topic that no one dare touch, though it poisons everything and is the one thing that must be dealt with if we are ever going to get serious.

As discussed elsewhere in this blog, between a third and half of homeless families or solo individuals in Sacramento get disability income.  Social security disability income is the prime source fueling addictions in Homeless World Sacramento with this income getting used to buy addictive substances and not being used for basic living expenses.

But make no mistake:  A high percentage get disability income for a real disability but it is also quite true that a high percentage get disability income fruadulently.  Often, in either case, the money gets used for alcohol and other, powerful mind-altering substances and "to play" while living out on the street and using charities to get food and shelter and whatnot to survive.

And let's get real:  The prime homeless-services agencies in Sacramento have a Faustian Compact with the addicted street people.  Let's all be quiet about the massive amounts of money out on the street because it lets you [the addict] remain obliviously happy and tilted or tweaked or blasted or dufflebummed, while it allows us [in the Homeless-Services Racket] to have a bodacious donor-snookering business.

Meantime, overlooked are 'responsible' homeless people with no income and the mentally ill, left to fend for themselves.  The 'legitimately' homeless, with their feet stuck in concrete, are those forgotten.

Further, writes Biggs,
Why have disability costs risen so fast? The main reason is looser eligibility standards passed by Congress in the 1980s that expanded the criteria for disability and put greater emphasis on evidence presented by applicants' own doctors rather than the Social Security Administration's experts. Likewise, increasing numbers of D.I. applicants are represented by lawyers, with the result that S.S.A. loses two-thirds of appeals against denied benefits. The economists David Autor of M.I.T. and Mark Duggan of the University of Maryland conclude, “The rapid growth of Disability Insurance does not appear to be explained by a true rise in the incidence of disabling illness, but rather by policies that increased the subjectivity and permeability of the disability screening process.”
Yeah.  No kidding.

And let us not overlook the result of the insane way things are in Homeless World Sacramento.  Addicted individuals are enabled [by the wacky Leftist agencies, mostly] and 'die young' from cirrhosis and other effects of wildly powerful intoxicants.  People are left without meaning in their lives; they get high to escape.  All the while these nonprofit charities rather obliviously 'grow' their bureaucracy and footprint in the community.

Like Major Clipton at the end of Bridge Over the River Kwai, all you can do is pace back and forth and bellow Madness! … Madness! … Madness! … Madness!


Nagarjuna said…
You point out a serious and apparently growing problem. But how do we effectively but fairly separate those who are scamming the system from those who are truly disabled? The problem with clamping down on the scammers is, of course, that the truly disabled can end up being rejected as well.

What's more, if the so-called scammers use their disability money to gratify their addiction to alcohol or illegal substances, isn't addiction a type of disability? If we could reliably determine that someone's disability is their addiction, do we stop giving them disability payments? If so, what, if anything, do we do instead to help them with their addiction disability?

It's a tough problem, and I don't know what the answer to it is.
Tom Armstrong said…
Nagarjuna: Good questions and good assessments!

Some of the comments to the article I referenced provide some ideas toward solutions, but you are right: It's a whole nest of problems, some of which can not be fully solved.

Here are some ideas for how to address the mess [from the comments and elsewhere]:

(1)The way to reduce the cost of disability benefits is to create a streamlined short-term disability system and partial disability benefits. Let people go on disability to address a flare of their disease and don't wait three or five years for a review.

(2)Look at what the Netherlands did to address their runaway disability problem.

(3)Provide vocational rehabilitation right in the hospital, immediately after serious injuries, as is done in Sweden. The Swedes have a terrific batting average in returning workers to employment compared to America's abysmal record.

(4)Require that disability income be used for room and board FIRST. The means of doing that is difficult, but the alternative of having SSI money be used near-solely for substance abuse by so many is, effectively, contributing to people's slow suicide.

(5)Create a system that allows for a mix of work AND disability income, whereby people are encouraged to work as they can with disability income kicking in when people can't work. Again, getting a bureaucracy/system in place to make this work is difficult, but all our new technology can make it increasingly possible.

(6)Note that Biggs offers four ways to better control and police disability problems in the third paragraph in his essay.

(7)As Biggs suggests, universal healthcare will help out enormously at stemming the tide of claims

Also, Nagarjuna, you are right that addiction IS a disability. Indeed, it used to be that alcoholics would go on disability for alcoholism and then OF COURSE use the money to worsen their addiction/disability! Of course that is insane. The "cure" is to get people to stop using the alcohol/substance they're addicted to, but that is an ages-old problem.

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