The Dysfunctionality of the Federal Disability Program


The Dysfunctionality of the Federal Disability Program

Disability checks issued by the federal government are growing every year and are doing so to an extent that is unsustainable to the U.S. economy and counterproductive to some of the beneficiaries.

Each month, 14 million checks averaging $1,000 each are written out by the government to disabled people. Some of these pricey handouts are ill-vetted, and tend to destroy any incentive for disabled people to perform any gainful work. Disability, it would appear, means inability.

This reality was extensively discussed in the weekly public radio show This American Life by Ira Glass and Chana Joffe-Walt of Planet Money, on March 22.

Using Hale County, Alabama, as a microcosmic example for many pockets of U.S. society, Joffe-Walt, who has spent six months studying the rise in disability payments, reported that one in four people in the county receive disability checks.

These statistics essentially define daily life in Hale County, she noted. Banks stay open late when the disability checks come in on the first and third day of the month, and grocery carts are brimful. The disability payments are the only source of income for some of these people because they have opted to stay out of any work altogether.

In Greensboro, the county seat, the only general practitioner operating there—who makes most of the medical recommendations and “diagnoses” for disability—told Chana Joffe-Walt that when these disabled people visit, “we talk about the pain and what it’s like. … I always ask them, ‘What grade did you finish?’” Basically, a decision is largely influenced by the person’s academic likelihood of getting a job to begin with—at least from the practitioner’s perspective.

In her interviews with disabled people, Joffe-Walt noted that some of them had never even conceived of the possibility of getting a job that would not be hindered by their disabilities. The concept was so foreign to them that she appeared to have been expecting them to have considered becoming astronauts.

Chana Joffe-Walt and This American Life have received criticism from the liberal media, but their analysis is thorough and spot-on. For the past 30 years, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on both well-deserving disabled people and for those who may fall short. The number of people on the disability program has doubled every 15 years—economic growth of the 1990s, improving technology for disabled people, and laws against discrimination notwithstanding.

And even when one’s application to the program is rejected by the government—something that happens to two thirds of applicants—there are disability lawyers who get paid by the government when they win an appeal case. Joffe-Walt reported that the government pays over $1 billion to these lawyers every year.

Then there are companies like the Public Consulting Group (pcg). The pcg helps people with disabilities migrate from welfare to the disability program. The latter is entirely financed by the federal government, while the former is a shared expenditure between states and the federal government. States obviously stand to benefit from such migrations. That’s why they pay the pcg. The state of Missouri, for example, has been asked by the Public Consulting Group to pay $2,300 per person.

The federal government also bears the costs for children with disabilities in its Supplemental Security Income program. Most of the disabilities that children on this program are diagnosed with are mental or intellectual problems. This program best shows how easily the system can be used deviously and hamper the development of some of its beneficiaries. Some of the families of these children primarily survive off the disability checks they receive for their children’s impairments. They may see themselves better off if their children do not improve. Some of the families interviewed by Joffe-Walt gave that impression.

America’s disability program is dysfunctional and vulnerable to gross abuse. While it is a tremendous benefit to those who may be severely incapacitated, it provides an easy way out for those who may not want to work, or those who never have been challenged to even try. According to the chief actuary at the Social Security Administration, Steve Goss, the disability insurance program reserves will run out of money in 2016.

With the economic woes besetting the U.S., a welfare system prone to abuse is the last thing America needs. It’s more weight to the debt load. Our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy explains the reason for these national problems and the leadership that will soon solve them.