In the aftermath of a series recently aired on This American Life, All Things Considered, and National Public Radio (NPR) stations across the U.S. (“Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America”), eight former Commissioners of the Social Security Administration (SSA) released an open letter in support of the Social Security disability programs. The former Commissioners also raised concerns with how the series characterized the programs, stating: “We are deeply concerned that the series ‘Unfit for Work’ failed to tell the whole story and perpetuated dangerous myths about the Social Security disability programs and the people helped by this vital system. We fear that listeners may come away with an incorrect impression of the program—as opposed to an understanding of the program actually based on facts.
“As former Commissioners of the agency, we could not sit on the sidelines and witness this one perspective on the disability programs threaten to pull the rug out from under millions of people with severe disabilities.”
The letter was signed by:
- Kenneth S. Apfel
- Michael J. Astrue
- Jo Anne B. Barnhart
- Shirley S. Chater
- Herbert R. Doggette
- Louis D. Enoff
- Larry G. Massanari
- Lawrence H. Thompson
Read the full letter here.
A huge buzz has come out of a story called “Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America” that ran last week on This American Life and this week on National Public Radio (NPR). While this story about Social Security and people with disabilities raises interesting questions, it’s also very incomplete, and perpetuates negative stereotypes and misunderstandings about people with disabilities. The Arc’s network knows better!
Members of The Arc and families served by us know that Social Security disability programs provide an essential lifeline that keeps millions of Americans with severe 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.
Additionally, “Unfit to Work” failed to mention many of the key facts about these programs. Many listeners were left with the impression that the disabilities that qualify people for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are “squishy,” and that the “federal disability programs have become an extremely expensive default plan” for low-income Americans.
In reality, Social Security and SSI disability benefits are only available to children and adults with the most severe disabilities – it’s hard to qualify, and it can often take years. The recent growth in the programs is largely explained by demographics, and program costs are manageable. The Arc does support many improvements to these programs to make them better for beneficiaries and to strengthen their financing – and we also know they are a lifeline that must be preserved.
To learn more about this report and the inaccuracies in it please read this letter from The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, which The Arc has signed, and other perspectives:
- Harold Pollack, University of Chicago, in the Washington Post;
- The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, on “The Facts About Disability Insurance,” “The State of Disability,” and the SSI childhood disability program; and
- The Center for Economic and Policy Research, on SSDI trends, factual errors in the report, and SSI;
- The Center for Law and Social Policy, on SSI and TANF / “welfare”;
- The Washington Post on SSDI trends; and
- John Bouman, President of the Shriver Center.
Also, if you want to take action and tell NPR the real story about Social Security and individuals with disabilities, visit our action center.