Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Sky is Falling - Purge the SSA Thieves

When money get's tight, folks start looking at the most vulnerable amongst us.

Like the trust fund crises, periodically articles appear whipping up the masses to ferret out the fraud in SSA's program. Usually those who yell loudest know the least. The New York Times recently ran some blog posts and included in the responses was this gem from an Administrative Law Judge. Yep, someone who hears cases, and sees the disabled.

Morley White is an administrative law judge in Cleveland for the Social Security Administration. We agree with his assessment and his comments include the following:

"As a judge who has handled Social Security disability cases for 16 years, I do not believe that there is as much fraud as the press and the public believe when
it comes to the individuals who are making the claims for supplemental security benefits. That does not imply that is no fraud.
I generally believe in the sincerity of what they say. They are poor and the benefits they receive are now only $674 a month for an eligible individual.
What are these people supposed to do in this economy with the limitations they say they have?There is too much emphasis on reputed individual fraud and not enough on how the system itself can be reformed."

Despite such perspectives from those who know what they speak of, every time the economy dips or the trust fund is in need of repair, the recipients are blamed. When this periodic hysteria occurred in the 1980's the Reagan administration with help from David Stockman ( who may reside in a federal penal institution these days), was able to purge the rolls of
beneficiaries, sending cessation letters to mentally retarded individuals suggesting they could perform jobs such as cashiers. After several former recipients chained themselves to federal buildings in protest, congress woke up and regulated the process of removing folks from the rolls, creating a medical improvement process.

Reforms are inevitable, but we would like to see more articles about just what the percentage of "fraud" is in SSA programs. And, it may be surprising
to those who are ready to purge the rolls that millions of recipients are underpaid billions of dollars ( See GAO reports on SSA) due to understaffed and insufficiently trained/motivated/ compensated etc, SSA staff.

We believe the answer to saving money lies in reforms by the agency; consistency in payments and quality review at the front end of SSA's disability process. The problems are legion, but the answer is not in going after the poor.