More and more voices are calling for an overhaul of the Social Security system, and many are targeting Social Security disability benefits for scrutiny. Citing the need to “cut waste” in SSDI, representatives like Republican Mike Rogers of Alabama stress that the staggering size of the nation’s deficit demands stricter measures in distributing the nation’s tax dollars.
Like others in the nation’s capital, Congressman Rogers pointed to waste in programs such as Social Security disability benefits. Speaking to constituents last week, Rogers was reported to have said, “We have some doctors who are scamming the system. We’ve got to clean up the system and we need an audit of every Social Security file. There are people on disability who need to get off and people who need on who cannot get on.” Congressman Rogers voiced his belief that Social Security will run out of funds in 30 years - a belief that is shared by the Social Security Administration (SSA) itself.
Not all pundits agree that cutting spending is a wise idea at this time. In his article “Cutting the Budget Deficit Undermines Social Security and Medicare, Depresses Purchasing Power,” Kevin Zeese states, “The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is sounding the alarm around deficit spending. It is using exaggerated rhetoric to heighten deficit fear at a time when more spending is needed. In pushing proposals that will weaken the middle class [the Administration risks] real anger from American voters. The commission is talking about cuts to Social Security, Medicare and middle class benefits like the home mortgage deduction rather then focusing on the three causes of the deficit: massive war and weapons spending, giant tax cuts for the wealthy and the faltering economy.”
According to SSA’s webpage “Fast Facts and Figures About Social Security, 2010” the percentage of the nation’s resources that are allocated to our social safety net is modest compared with other developed countries. This website estimates payments from Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in 2008 to equal only 4.26% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2009, that percentage rose to 4.74%. (The GDP is a measure of a country’s overall economic output.)
Other sources cite a higher percentage of GDP for Social Security, but the bottom line is that the percentage of GDP that is spent on Social Security expenditures is lower in the United States than in Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Canada, all of which spend a larger percentage of their gross domestic product on social services.
Although Social Security is not a large percentage of our overall GDP, it is a huge component of the national budget and a natural target for concerned lawmakers. In 2010, the President’s budget allocates 19.63% of the budget to Social Security or $677.95 billion. Regardless of whether you believe Social Security is a necessary national safety net or an unreasonable drain on our national resources, Social Security makes an obvious area of scrutiny for those searching for waste and overspending in the budget.
In this climate, it would be surprising if the SSA did not redouble its efforts to weed out those applicants seeking to get disability benefits who do not make a strong case. At present, two out of three initial SSDI applications are denied, forcing claimants to the appeal process. Ninety percent of applicants are denied at the first appeal stage. It stands to reason that those who chose to apply for disability benefits would do well to enlist the assistance of professionals (either a trained Social Security disability attorney or a trained non-profit volunteer or social worker) who understand the system and can help a person organize the myriad of medical documents and treatment histories required by Social Security examiners to make the best possible case.