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Social Security Disability a Hidden Welfare Program? Our Response

According to a variety of sources, from the Social Security Administration to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) are not as easy to obtain as Slate contributor James Ledbetter would lead his readers to believe in his September 13, 2010, article titled "America's Hidden Welfare Program."

As one commenter writes, "I would gladly trade my wife's SSDI check for a cure for ALS. She would be ecstatic to be working again and living a full life without the devastation ALS brings. Without SSDI my wife would not only have to face total disability and death but homelessness."

We couldn't say it better ourselves.

Ledbetter states that more than 9 million people are benefiting from the SSDI program. These are 9 million "hidden welfare recipients" in Ledbetter's opinion.

But the entire U.S. population is roughly more than 300 million, and as a rough calculation, only 3 percent of the population receives SSDI benefits. Considering the problems facing those who receive SSDI, 3 percent is a small number.

To be fair, we agree that Congress has expanded the scope of eligibility for SSDI. We also agree that in 1956 (when the program began) there were only 150,000 people on SSDI, and that today there are more than 9 million. But to read between the lines, one sees Ledbetter proposing a serious overhaul (if not complete elimination) of SSDI.

The SSDI program is one in which examiners and judges are employed to determine eligibility, to make a decision, after an individual presents his or her case, whether or not that individual is eligible for SSDI benefits.

Ledbetter characterizes the situation as one in which the disabled are "paid not to get jobs." But SSDI is not a brick-and-mortar retail shop on the corner, where people can walk in and order their federal checks at the counter, no questions asked. In fact, approximately 50 percent of initial applicants find their claims denied.

Do the disabled mooch off the system? Would a wife's ALS suddenly be cured if SSDI was discontinued? If there was a cut-off date, would a combat veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and associated difficulties be able to pick himself up by his bootstraps and find an honest job?

As Ledbetter admits, there are those who are "truly incapacitated." There is no sure way to determine who is truly incapacitated and who is not. So we must rely on those who are employed to determine incapacitation: the examiners and the judges and the lawyers who help present claimants' cases. Looking at the readily-available statistics, the examiners and judges are not just allowing anyone into the system without at least some convincing evidence of disability.

After all, there is no cut-off date for cancer or muscular dystrophy or quadriplegia or serious mental illness.


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In Minnesota, we handle Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims. Throughout the nation, we handle SSDI applications and appeals for people from Ohio to Kansas, North Dakota to Texas and everywhere in between.


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