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SSDI expense explodes, budget increasingly unstable

A recent analysis of the Social Security Disability Insurance system yields one glaring result: SSDI claims and beneficiaries have increased dramatically in recent years. Upon closer inspection, the analysis also reveals possible reasons for the increase along with the faltering economy.

When disability benefits began, it was as a supplement to Social Security, which covered retired workers. Physically disabling accidents and severe health problems such as heart disease and cancer were the most common reason workers had to quit working before retirement and begin receiving SSDI. Now, mental disorders such as depression and PTSD and physical disorders such as back pain and joint stress are the top complaints that applicants for SSDI are citing. Those two categories alone increased from 28 percent of awards in 1981 to 54 percent in 2009.

In the 2000s, applications for SSDI increased 123 percent to 2.9 million. Some researchers argue that workers use SSDI as a form of long-term unemployment insurance when their short-term unemployment benefits runs out. Though some may see that as an abuse of the system, those people are not living extravagantly. The average recipient gets approximately $14,000 a year.

Looking at the facts, one solution to this problem could be to raise the standards of the application process and encourage workers whose health issues are not overly severe to go back to work. The Americans with Disabilities Act was created to do just that. However, doing so would create such a public relations disaster that no one is willing to take up that cause. When President Reagan tried to tighten eligibility standards, the backlash was so severe that Congress actually relaxed the rules even more.

But workers who are injured should not feel bad about applying for the benefits. They exist for a reason, and as previously stated, the benefits do not allow a recipient to live high on the hog. It is a small payment to allow someone to keep a roof over his or head, put food on the table and keep bills paid.

Source: The Washington Post, "Budget quagmire revealed by Social Security disability program," Robert J. Samuelson, Feb. 12, 2012

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