A 60 Minutes broadcast aired in October 2013 about the Social Security disability programs was an egregious piece of biased, anecdote-based reporting that lacked critical facts and context for viewers. This is the latest in an array of sensationalized and misleading media coverage that has perpetuated myths and stereotypes about the Social Security disability programs and the people they help. These media reports have done a tremendous disservice to viewers, as well as to people with disabilities. The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) feels compelled to respond and set the record straight about the Social Security disability programs, which serve as a vital resource for millions of Americans with significant disabilities and severe illnesses.
Despite criticizing the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) programs, 60 Minutes did not offer SSA a chance to respond or be included in the piece. Moreover, the report was entirely one-sided, as the producers did not speak with anyone who receives benefits, or any disability advocates. NOSSCR joined nearly two-dozen national disability advocacy organizations in writing to 60 Minutes’ producers before the piece aired, calling for balance and accuracy in their reporting on the disability programs. 60 Minutes did not respond. Millions of American workers depend on the modest but vital benefits they receive, and it would have been essential, and good journalism practice, to hear their side of the story.
The fact is that Social Security’s disability programs are a core component of our nation’s Social Security system. The Social Security disability standard is the most restrictive in the developed world. Extremely strict eligibility requirements mean that no more than four in ten applicants are approved for benefits. Demonstrating eligibility requires extensive medical evidence, and many individuals are denied despite significant disabilities and chronic illnesses. Benefits are modest but vital – averaging just over $500 per month for Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries and approximately $1,130 per month for Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries. For many, disability benefits make it possible to secure stable housing and purchase food, life-sustaining medications, and other basic necessities.
Moreover, the increase in the number of people receiving Disability Insurance comes as no surprise and was projected by Social Security’s actuaries as far back as 1994. Social Security’s Chief Actuary notes that the growth is primarily due to demographic factors: the aging of the baby boomers into their high disability years, women entering the workforce in greater numbers in the 1970s and 1980s so that they now qualify for Disability Insurance based on their own contributions, and the increase in the retirement age.
NOSSCR condemns any misuse of the Social Security disability programs. We hold our members to high ethical standards and enforce an annual ethics education requirement. Any individual who seeks to abuse vital programs like the Social Security disability programs does so at the expense of the millions of vulnerable beneficiaries for whom benefits are a vital lifeline, and should be brought to justice. We encourage anyone who suspects abuse of the Social Security disability programs to report it via Social Security’s hotline 1-800-269-0271 or online at www.oig.ssa.gov.
However, it is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that 60 Minutes misled their viewers by painting the entire program with the brush of one bad apple, without putting it in the context of the millions of individuals who receive benefits appropriately and for whom they are a vital lifeline – as well as the many disability advocates around the country who work hard to protect the rights of individuals with significant disabilities and serious illnesses who have been wrongly denied Social Security disability benefits.
An important fact left out of 60 Minutes’ report is that disability advocates are paid by the individual claimants they represent, out of the claimants’ past-due benefits – not out of taxpayer dollars. Many individuals applying for disability benefits seek help from disability advocates to help them navigate the complex, often daunting process and advocate on their behalf – which can be of real help during what is already an incredibly stressful time for individuals dealing with serious medical problems.
The Social Security Administration works hard to ensure program integrity, but it requires adequate resources to do so. It has been deprived of the administrative resources it requires to conduct necessary program integrity work for several years – and the ongoing government shutdown has only stymied the agency further. Congress must provide SSA with sufficient administrative resources to ensure that benefits are paid to the right person, in the right amount, and at the right time.
If you or a family member have any questions about social security disability or SSI, please call our experienced social security disability attorney Tim Byland at (888) 606-5297 for a free consultation.