Cleaning Up Social Security Disability Benefits Are a Drain Because the System Has Not Emphasized Drug Treatment and Job Assistance

By William S. Cohen. William S. Cohen of Maine is chairman of the Senate . | The Christian Science Monitor, September 25, 1995 | Go to article overview

Cleaning Up Social Security Disability Benefits Are a Drain Because the System Has Not Emphasized Drug Treatment and Job Assistance


William S. Cohen. William S. Cohen of Maine is chairman of the Senate ., The Christian Science Monitor


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 the rolls.

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 binges.

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. …

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