What Trump Gets Wrong About Social Security Disability

After promising voters to not touch Social Security, the Trump administration has proposed a budget(1) to Congress that would cut $72 billion from Social Security disability. This move, not supported by the facts, is based on the belief is that a significant number of those on Social Security disability can actually work.

In reality, data clearly shows that fraud is so limited that even if it were entirely eliminated, it would have only a slight, negligible effect upon the federal budget and the Social Security fund.

According to a publication(2) by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget on March 15, 2016, if fraud were eliminated from total Social Security benefits, this would increase Social Security’s solvency by only 3 months. At the same time, if fraud recovery were limited to only the very old or deceased, it would increase Social Security’s solvency from between 6 minutes to 12 hours.

One report(3) indicated,

Obscured are the facts that to even be eligible for Social Security Disability a person has to have worked five of the last 10 years, that the average person on Social Security Disability Insurance worked 22 years before getting benefits, that millions of such workers are now living with significant pain and disability, and that beneficiaries are often older Americans with less education who live in poor rural areas and former manufacturing communities – communities that politicians of every stripe, including Trump himself, have proclaimed to want to help.

The next time you hear a politician talk about the need to cut Social Security Disability benefits because of rampant waste or fraud in the system, remember these facts. I marvel at the anecdotal stories I hear from time to time about the neighbor they have, or someone they’ve seen, who they have observed demonstrating no disability whatsoever, yet they are receiving Social Security Disability benefits, or SSI payments. A case of obvious fraud, it is alleged. But when you ask them what their friends and neighbors, even their relatives outside their home, know about their medical condition and how it affects their functioning, they always acknowledge that it is from nothing to very little, usually closer to nothing. And when it comes to mental disability, this kind of condition may not prevent a person from working in their garden, mowing their lawn, or doing any number of things. Yet, the mentally disabled are every bit as disabled as the physically disabled, every bit as incapacitated.

Just because something cannot be easily seen does not mean that it does not exist. Disability is proven by medical records and sometimes, by vocational testimony at a hearing, not by the casual observations of others.

Ignore the hyperbole of the politicians, resist the temptation to assume how someone else is able to function.

Disability is not easy to obtain and I have yet to meet one client who prefers limited disability payments over the fulfillment of work, the social interaction that comes with work, the sense of self-worth, value to family, and community that comes from work, and the greater earnings from work. Favor the truth about Social Security Disability and SSI, favor the truth about the people who need this support, remain compassionate, and hope that you do not become one who must rely on Social Security Disability or SSI. But if you do, hope that these proposed cuts, if passed by Congress, will not eliminate you from the support you and your family require and deserve.

1. NOSSCR Press Release, May 23, 2017
2. Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, March 15, 2016.
3. “The Fuzzy Claims Used to Justify Cutting Social Security Disability Insurance”, The Atlantic, May 23, 2017 by Gene B. Sterling