LIKE Medicare, the Social Security program is in need of fixing
- not a radical restructuring, but a few repairs - to preserve it
for generations to come.
Last spring, the trustees of the Social Security and Medicare
Trust Funds reported that although Social Security is financially
stable, there is trouble ahead. By 2013, the trustees warned, the
money being paid out to beneficiaries will exceed the money being
taken in from payroll taxes. And 17 years after that, about the
time today's thirty-somethings hit retirement age, the trust fund
will be bankrupt, unable to pay a dime in benefits to anyone.
Abuse of tax dollars
One of the biggest problems plaguing the Social Security
Administration is the unfettered growth of the disability programs.
Over the past decade, the number of recipients of Social
Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security
Income (SSI) benefits has risen from about 4.2 million to more than
7 million - an increase of nearly 70 percent. About $4 billion in
cash payments is sent out each month under these programs. But
despite this enormous outlay of cash, very little attention has
been paid to how these taxpayer dollars are spent, even though the
SSDI program has a direct affect on the overall stability of the
Social Security Trust Fund.
Fraud and abuse are rampant in the disability programs. Last
year, for example, my Aging Committee staff found that more than a
quarter million drug addicts and alcoholics were together receiving
about $1.4 billion a year in cash benefits. Few, however, were
receiving any treatment or making any legitimate effort to get off
Instead, these addicts were using government checks to feed
their addictions to drugs and alcohol. Some checks were even going
directly to the owners of bars or liquor stores, who conveniently
ran a tab for their best clients.
In other cases, addicts who had waited months for their
applications to be processed were receiving retroactive, lump-sum
payments of thousands of dollars - an invitation for out-of-control
New law attaches strings
Reforms I authored were signed into law last summer. Among the
changes are new requirements that addicts undergo treatment as a
condition of receiving benefits and an elimination of the lump-sum
payments. Additionally, the new statute stipulates that benefits be
paid to a legitimate third party such as a treatment center or
community organization. …