It is no secret that, while the economy may be coming back slowly, there are still many individuals who are finding it impossible to obtain a job in today's job market. Unemployment benefits are meant to help these unemployed individuals make ends meet until they are able to find other suitable employment. The problem is, these benefits are only granted for a specified period of time. Once that time period has expired, the unemployment payments stop. Some lawmakers are worried that unemployed individuals may be applying for Social Security Disability benefits, trying to use the program as an extension of their unemployment payments. Thus arises the question: Is there any evidence that this is occurring or that it will occur at any point in the near future and, if so, what does it mean to taxpayers?
Two Republican senators are worried that Social Security Disability benefits are fraudulently being used as an extension of unemployment benefits for people who are unable to find employment in today's job market. On May 20th of this year, these senators sent a letter to the inspector general of the Social Security Administration expressing concerns that disability benefits are being awarded to individuals who are not truly disabled. They worry that the Social Security Disability program is being exploited as a way of extending some applicants' unemployment benefits, rather than using the program for its designed purpose.
What has these senators worried is the increasing number of Social Security Disability claims that the Social Security Administration has seen since the downturn of the economy. The increasing number of claims and the alarmingly high award ratio of certain administrative law judges raised serious concern. For example, one administrative law judge in West Virginia has recently approved every single one of the 729 disability cases that he presided over this year and at least 100 of the 1,500 judges that work for the Social Security Administration have approval rates of 90 percent or higher. According to the senators who are worried that the Social Security Disability program is being improperly used, these approval rates defy logic and demand further investigation.
While the senators understand that Social Security Disability applicants who are truly disabled are most definitely entitled to disability benefits, they do not want these benefits provided to individuals who are merely seeking a way to extend their unemployment payments. Allowing this to happen will put an increased burden on the Social Security Administration's budget, which is already facing significant struggles. Just one approval of a disability claim costs taxpayers approximately $300,000. This means that the 729 cases that were awarded by the West Virginia administrative law judge will cost taxpayers more than $218 million.
Many people are wondering whether there is any real evidence showing that more people are collecting Social Security Disability payments now than in the past. The answer is yes. In Oklahoma, for example, disabled workers accounted for 13 percent of all Social Security income recipients in 2003. In 2009, that number jumped to 17 percent. While there could be logical explanations for such jumps in disability payments, it is a concern that some individuals may indeed be scamming the Social Security Disability program.
With the Social Security program facing such serious financial struggles, it is important that the Social Security Administration find a proper balance, ensuring that taxpayers who are truly disabled will have access to the disability benefits they desperately need while, at the same time, hindering those who would use the Social Security Disability program as an extension of their unemployment benefits.