Englewood Cliffs, N.J. - April 11, 2013 - The past few weeks have seen dramatic, sensationalized media reports about the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, based on anecdotes, half-truths and misrepresentation of facts. The National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (NOSSCR) is compelled to set the record straight about the program - which serves as a vital resource for millions of Americans.
Increase in Disability Rolls
The truth about the increase in disability rolls is that this was an expected trend, predicted as far back as 1994, with two very clear factors: the aging baby boomers entering their high-disability years, and women who entered the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s that are now eligible to draw on their own earnings record when they become disabled.
"The mistruths and recent media barrage is unwarranted and shocking," said Nancy Shor, founder and executive director, NOSSCR. "We're very concerned that they do not tell the entire story and that they will be harmful to the millions of Americans that depend on these modest benefits to maintain a basic quality of life. Yearly benefits are only around $13,000 per year - just enough to keep beneficiaries out of deep poverty and homelessness."
Who Gets Benefits?
As eight former SSA Commissioners pointed out this week in an open letter, the standard for disability approval is strict; the majority of applicants are not approved. Disability benefits are only a modest asset that helps beneficiaries live with dignity while unable to work.
"There are more than 38 million disabled Americans, but only the most seriously disabled, or around 14 million, have proved eligible to receive benefits, which they depend on greatly" said Debra Shifrin, attorney and president of NOSSCR. "When comprehending the Social Security disability system, people need to understand that less than one third of initial applications are approved, and only 40 percent overall, as it requires evaluations and documentation to establish that these claimants are truly in great need."
Highly Regulated Fee Structure
As a member organization made up of attorneys and other advocates who represent people with disabilities, we are very concerned with the gross mischaracterizations of representatives in recent stories. It is important to keep in mind that claimants who hire private attorneys do so voluntarily. Claimant's representatives' highly regulated fees are taken on a contingency basis and are capped at 25% of the claimants' past-due benefits, or $6,000 - whichever is lower. Additionally, the Federal Court appeals process is so time consuming and complex that few lawyers want to handle these cases at all. Attorneys that do this work are deeply committed to public service and are motivated to discourage frivolous claims that could overload an already burdened system.
Social Security Disability Benefits and The Economy
Simply put, Social Security disability benefits do not contribute to the deficit. SSDI is self-financed by payroll taxes (FICA) and SSI dollars come out of taxes raised, therefore not increasing the national debt. Achieving long-term solvency for Social Security programs should not be part of deficit reduction efforts.
The Social Security Disability Insurance program is an essential component of our American government system, intended to be a social safety net for American workers unable to perform job functions and support their families. These attacks are blatantly one-sided, untrue and threaten the modest benefits that are needed by so many. We encourage the media to focus on solutions to reform the system to ensure it is strong and efficient for many years to come, rather than disparaging our nation's most vulnerable population.
NOSSCR, a specialized bar association for attorneys and other advocates who represent people with disabilities, has been a pioneer in legal continuing education and public policy advocacy since 1979. We represent Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Insurance claimants through the adjudication process, advocating for the income rights of people with disabilities. Learn more at www.nosscr.org.