Statement of Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force Regarding Recent New York City Disability Fraud Allegations

Approximately 100 former police officers, firefighters and others were indicted this week in New York City for allegedly fraudulently obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits. The allegations are extremely troubling, and if true, these individuals’ actions are nothing short of deplorable.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force condemns any misuse of the Social Security disability programs. Any individual who seeks to abuse vital programs like Social Security does so at the expense of the millions of disabled workers for whom benefits provide essential economic security — and must be brought to justice.

At the same time, we must take care not to paint Social Security’s disability programs with the brush of the few who aim to defraud it, without putting them in the context of the millions of individuals who receive benefits appropriately and for whom Social Security is a vital lifeline.

Social Security’s disability programs are a core component of our nation’s Social Security system, which keeps millions of hardworking Americans and their families out of poverty. Extremely strict eligibility requirements mean that fewer than four in ten applicants are approved for disability benefits, even after all stages of appeal. Demonstrating eligibility requires extensive medical evidence, and many individuals are denied benefits despite significant disabilities and chronic illnesses. Benefits are modest but vital – averaging just over $500 per month for Supplemental Security Income and approximately $1,130 per month for Social Security Disability Insurance. For many, disability benefits make it possible to secure stable housing and purchase food, life-sustaining medications, and other basic necessities. Disability benefits can be the difference between life and death for many Americans.

The Social Security Administration works hard to ensure program integrity, but it requires adequate resources to do so. It has been deprived of adequate administrative resources to conduct necessary program integrity work for several years. Congress holds the purse strings to enable the Social Security Administration to ensure that benefits are paid to the right person, in the right amount, and at the right time— and to implement the array of critical safeguards that exist in current law.

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.

Another Media Hit on Social Security Disability Programs – Get the Facts

60_Minutes_logoSunday night, CBS’ 60 Minutes aired a piece they dubbed “Disability, USA” in which they portrayed the Social Security disability programs as exploding over the last few years and in danger of running out of funds. We’re deeply concerned that to press the panic button on the funding stream for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is irresponsible, and we’re saddened to see 60 Minutes join other national media in perpetrating myths and inaccuracies.

Members of The Arc and the individuals and families we serve know Social Security is an essential lifeline that keeps millions of Americans with significant disabilities from homelessness and deep poverty.  About 1 in 5 Americans live with a disability, and this report failed to show the importance these programs play in many of their lives.

It’s disappointing to see reporting that puts people who rely on these programs to survive on edge, when the truth is much less sensational but also much more interesting.  Here are three important facts to keep in mind:

1. It’s incredibly difficult to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.  The Social Security Act’s disability standard is one of the strictest in the developed world.  Fewer than four in ten applicants are approved, even after all stages of appeal.  Many are terminally ill: 1 in 5 male SSDI beneficiaries and nearly 1 in 6 female SSDI beneficiaries die within 5 years of receiving benefits.  Due to the complexity of the process, many people who appeal seek help from an attorney or representative who is paid by the claimant out of past-due benefits – not out of the Disability Insurance Trust Fund, as suggested by 60 Minutes. As noted by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, the fee process for Social Security claims is highly regulated and the average fee in most cases is less than $3,000.

2. For those of us paying attention, the growth in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is not surprising – in fact, it has been projected since 1994.  According to Social Security’s Chief Actuary, the growth in SSDI (from 1980 to 2010) is mostly the result of several factors: substantial growth in the U.S. population; the baby boomers aging into their high-disability years; and women entering the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s and 1980s so that more are now “insured” for SSDI based on their own prior contributions.

3.  The DI trust fund will need to be replenished in 2016 – but this is not a new development, or an unprecedented one.  Since Social Security was enacted, Congress has “reallocated” payroll tax revenues between the OASI (retirement) and DI (disability) trust funds – about equally in both directions – some 11 times to account for demographic shifts. In 1994, the last time such reallocation occurred, SSA actuaries accurately projected that similar action would next be required in 2016.

The 60 Minutes program also reported on fraud in the system that occurred in West Virginia and Kentucky.  The Social Security Administration – and advocacy organizations like The Arc – takes fraud very seriously because it harms the millions of honest people who rely on the program as a lifeline to basic necessities, and it hurts the integrity of the program.  Anytime you suspect fraud is occurring, you can contact the SSA hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or report it online.  We all want to root out the bad actors and focus the program on those that need it most – people with disabilities who without the SSA, would be homeless, hungry, and cut off from access to life saving medicines and services.  But it’s also important to keep in mind that most experts agree that fraud is very rare. Former SSA Commissioner Michael J. Astrue, appointed by President George W. Bush, estimates that fraud constitutes less than 1 percent of all applicants.

Finally, we believe that resources are vital to ensuring that SSA can properly administer its disability programs. The continued impact of underfunding has had serious implications, including limiting the agency’s ability to perform vital watchdog functions. And the current government shutdown is having even more dramatic effects.

Here are some additional resources for learning more about the facts on the Social Security disability programs:

Report Highlights Severe Abuse of People with Disabilities Abroad

The International Task Force of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) today released a report that highlights examples of the severe abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities around the World.  The report, Neglected and Abused Abroad: A Look at the Severe Mistreatment of Individuals with Disabilities Around the World and How the U.S. Can Help, highlights just a few examples of the horrible treatment, abuse, and discrimination faced by individuals with a variety of disabilities in other countries. 

Some examples of abuse include:

  • In Ghana, people with intellectual and mental health disabilities suffer severe abuse in psychiatric institutions and “healing centers.”  Thousands of people are forced to live in these institutions, often against their will and with little possibility of challenging their confinement;
  • In Kenya, a 10-year old girl who is deaf was raped but faces barriers in the justice system because of her disability;
  • In Mexico, children with intellectual disabilities were  abandoned at a private facility without any documentation on their diagnosis or even their names;
  • Children in Paraguay were found in cells with walls smeared with excrement and reeking of urine; and
  • In Russia, people with physical disabilities are prisoners in their own homes because of the widespread physical inaccessibility of Russian cities.

“Our country has an obligation to share our knowledge of how to ensure  children and adults with disabilities live as full citizens, with dignity and independence,” said CCD Chair, Katy Neas of Easter Seals.  “It is imperative that the United States show our leadership by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this fall.”

The full report is available at: http://www.c-c-d.org/fichiers/CCD_Inter_TF-Neglected_and_Abused_Abroad.pdf

The CCD International Task Force calls on the United States Senate to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the CRPD.  Through ratification of this important treaty, the United States will be in a much better position under international law to influence, train, assist, and if necessary use diplomatic pressure to work towards the equal rights and treatment of individuals with disabilities across the world – rights which have existed in the United States for years.

CCD is a coalition of over 100 national consumer, advocacy, provider and professional organizations working together to advocate for national public policy that ensures the self-determination, independence, empowerment, integration and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society.  For years, the coalition and its members have been calling on the U.S. to ratify the CRPD protecting the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.  CCD calls on the entire U.S. Senate to quickly provide its advice and consent to the treaty and restore the United States to a global leadership position on disability and human rights.