For the third day in a row, I’m featuring a newspaper editorial from earlier this month, again criticizing the huge backlog in processing Social Security disability claims.
I don’t know if the public is beginning to figure out that the Social Security disability system will not be there for them if they become disabled, but at least some newspapers have gotten the message. Our country simply must improve the Social Security disability system. The cost to society of all these hundreds of thousands of disabled people with no income to pay medical bills is too high. The United States would be much better off if we just paid the disability benefits we owe, so the disabled can stop depleting charity funds and clogging up government hospitals. We need to restore some dignity to the disabled, and let them have the financial means to support themselves. Here are excerpts from an editorial from the McClatchy-Tribune Information Services:
We must stop the inexcusable delay in getting Social Security benefits to people with disabilities.
Hundreds of thousands of people who have filed legitimate disability claims with the Social Security Administration have been forced to wait, on average, an astonishing 520 days for a hearing on their claims. Many have waited as long as three years, losing their homes in the process.
Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue has conceded that some people have even died while waiting for their disability payments to come through.
That’s mostly because the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress have provided $4 billion less than the agency has requested for its staffing needs.
The result, according to Sylvester J. Schieber, chairman of the Social Security Advisory Board, is “crushing backlogs, rapidly growing application rates and steadily declining numbers of workers to process the workloads.”
There are fewer people working at the Social Security Administration today than there were during the Ford administration. But the number of applicants claiming a disability has doubled since 2001 and is growing so rapidly that it is estimated that the backlogs of people waiting more than a year will bloat to 1 million by 2010.
Congress and the White House have been well aware of this crisis. The Advisory Board has issued 21 reports and statements since 1998 calling for more resources for Social Security disability programs.
Meanwhile, the situation keeps getting worse. The backlog has grown from 311,000 in 2000 to 755,000 today, according to The New York Times.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., put it well in a letter he sent to President Bush in September. “The bottom line is,” Dorgan wrote, “that elderly Americans and other poor individuals with disabilities that prevent them earning a living and paying their bills deserve better. Social Security disability benefits keep millions of disabled Americans out of poverty. But these people who are unable to work and need immediate assistance to avoid financial collapse do not appear to be a priority for your administration.”
Imagine if this were a private insurance company collecting disability insurance premiums and then stringing its customers along for years when they need to collect. This would be seen as a major case of insurance fraud.
But in Washington, it’s business as usual.
That’s got to change.