Economy

Senator Says Most People On Disability Don’t Deserve It

CREDIT: AP Photo / Charlie Neibergall

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is claiming that there is widespread fraud in the country’s disability system because most people who get benefits merely suffer from anxiety or sore backs.

At a meeting with legislative leaders in Manchester, NH on Wednesday, caught on tape by American Bridge, Paul told the room:

The thing is that all of these programs, there’s always somebody who’s deserving, everybody in this room knows somebody who’s gaming the system. I tell people that if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check. Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everyone over 40 has a back pain.

Watch:

The disability insurance program, which is part of Social Security, has come under scrutiny after two media reports last year that focused on rising enrollment and implied that it was at least partly due to fraud. But the reality is different: fraud in disability programs is estimated to amount to less than 1 percent and is extremely rare, as the agency’s watchdog has found. Its inaccurate payments rate is also less than 1 percent, compared to about 8 percent for Medicaid and Medicare.

The benefits are also very hard to come by. Fewer than four in ten applications are approved even after all stages of appeal. Medical evidence from multiple medical professionals is required in most cases to determine eligibility, which means showing that an applicant suffers from a “severe, medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to last 12 months or result in death.” The severity of the disabilities of those who get benefits is underscored by the fact that one in five men and nearly one in six women die within five years of being approved.

Once on the rolls, payments are far from cushy: they average $1,130 a month, just over the federal poverty line for a single person, and usually replace less than half of someone’s previous earnings. Very few beneficiaries are able to work and supplement that income: less than 17 percent worked at some point during the year in 2007, but less than 3 percent of those people made more than $10,000 annually.

But Republicans still have the program in their sights. They kicked off the new Congress with a measure that bans transferring funds between disability insurance and Social Security’s retirement finances. The managers of both programs have often borrowed from one to fund the other, but now will no longer be able to do so. The disability program is strained from rising enrollment — mostly due to expected demographic changes, not the recession — which could end up forcing a nearly 20 percent in disability payments.