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Congressman's comments draw attention to growth in SSD recipients

A republican congressman from Florida created headlines when he referred to Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits as "slavery," while stating that people who use the benefits to which they're entitled are wrong. Moreover, he suggested that SSD fraud is the primary reason that the number of SSD recipients has grown. However, even a rudimentary examination shows that the congressman knows little about SSD. Even worse, he is using those with disabilities to score political points.

Rep. Alan West has been soundly criticized for his incendiary remarks that demonized the disabled. But what is the truth of the matter? A recent study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reveals that the congressman is both extreme and willing to bend the truth in his efforts to draw attention to his re-election campaign.

The CBO study showed that biggest cause for the increase in SSD claims is the aging of baby boomers. Between 1996 through 2009, the proportion of older workers receiving benefits rose from 67 percent to 76 percent, reflecting the growth in the over-50 population. According to the report, aging baby boomers would have caused an increase in the number of SSD recipients even if nothing else had changed.

However, there are other factors that have contributed to the growth in claims for SSD benefits. First, more women have entered the workforce, significantly increasing the pool of workers who could become disabled. Second, a Reagan administration change in SSD eligibility added many qualifying illnesses and conditions, including mental disabilities, musculoskeletal problems and immune system disorders.

An important third factor in the growth of SSD recipients is the terrible economy. When jobs are plentiful, workers who might qualify for SSD are sometimes able to find jobs that they can perform, despite their disabilities. However, when unemployment is high, these types of jobs become hard to find for anyone, including the disabled.

Pundits who agree with Congressman West suggest that another reason for the increase is that it's easy to obtain SSD benefits. This would come as a big surprise to disabled workers who have tried to obtain SSD; 61 percent of initial SSD claims are denied and many initial claims take over a year before applicants receive a decision. Many disabled workers turn for help to an advocate such as those at Binder & Binder ®, the national Social Security Disability advocacy company, to help obtain the benefits they need and deserve.

Source: Huffington Post, "Social Security Disability Enrollment Rising Due To Demographic Trends, Not Obama 'Slavery' Plot: CBO, " July 17, 2012.

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