In the Arena

Reform Social Security Disability

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Back during the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney tried to make the argument that President Obama was soft on welfare reform. He missed the target. Welfare abuse has shifted to Social Security Disability.

Chuck Lane has a very good column about this new form of abuse in the Washington Post today. The Clinton welfare reform—Temporary Aid to Needy Families—remains what it was: a humane way to move people from dependency to work. But a great many people have done an end-run around the system, checking into Social Security Disability—which has no work requirement—and never checking out.

Now, to be sure, there are workers who fit the program’s inevitable intent: older workers who suffer serious injuries and need support until they reach the age of eligibility for social security. There are others whose medical or mental disabilities make them clearly unable to work. But the government has gotten sloppy about admissions. Remember, a good chunk of people receiving welfare simply disappeared when the work requirement was added. The reason? They already had full-time jobs in the black or grey markets. It took a while, but a great many of those folks finally figured out there was another scam to be had—social security disability.

An argument can be made that it was humane to expand the SSD acceptance rate after the housing crash of 2008. There were no jobs to be had. But we are in recovery now—and scamming the system is never a good idea. The neighbors inevitably figure out who is gaming the system. The stories grow and become exaggerated—I’ve heard specific tales of abuse  all over America on my road trips. Faith in the federal government is shattered as a result.

And so, the system needs to be reformed. It needs to be prioritized, just as the VA disability system does. The 55-year-old construction who hurt his back has my sympathy—I’d be in favor of lowering the eligibility age for both Medicare and Social Security a few years in such cases. But there are plenty of non-back-breaking jobs that construction worker can hold in the interim.

Indeed, in all but the most severe cases, there are public service jobs that can be done as a way of paying back—and a way of culling the scam artists. All too often, the scammers find support on the left from people who believe that free enterprise is inherently unfair and the “victims,” even the unworthy poor,  deserve any help they can get. That sort of thinking is insidious and morally deficient.

Once again, those of us who believe in government activism—who believe in universal health care, infrastructure development, a much better system of education and helping the truly needy—have a responsibility to make sure that the government we have is clean and efficient.