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NPR Report on Disability Benefits Raises Furor

A recent National Public Radio (NPR) report on disability benefits
has drawn fire from disability advocates and eight former Commissioners
of the Social Security Administration for relying on anecdotal evidence
and exaggeration to imply that people are abusing the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) systems.

story, produced by NPR's Planet Money Team, notes that over the past
three decades the number of Americans who get a disability check from
the federal government has skyrocketed. Reporter Chana Joffe-Walt
visits communities across the country, from Alabama to Washington state.
In each community, Joffe-Walt highlights stories of SSDI or SSI
beneficiaries with conditions that don't appear, at first glance, to be
very serious, including a man with diabetes and high blood pressure and a
child who has a learning disability.

story produced a quick and passionate response. The National
Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (NOSSCR), an
association of attorneys who represent people with disabilities, issued a strong rebuttal
pointing out that the government predicted the increase in disability
claims almost twenty years ago due to aging baby boomers and more women
in the workplace. The group noted that all beneficiaries pass through a
rigorous system designed to weed out fraudulent claims. In fact, less
than one-third of disability applications are initially approved, and
the remaining beneficiaries often have to fight through years of appeals
in order to receive the benefits that they are entitled to.

report focuses exclusively on the healthiest people with disabilities,
and does not address the countless recipients of disability benefits who
suffer from profound disabilities. NOSSCR points out that only 14
million of the nation's 38 million people with disabilities ever receive
federal disability benefits. The group also explains that the Social
Security Disability system is self-funded and that most claimants
receive approximately $13,000 a year, a sum that keeps them from
becoming completely impoverished.

pushing back against the NPR story were eight former Commissioners of
the Social Security Administration, appointed by Democratic and
Republican presidents alike. In a forceful letter,
the former commissioners state that "Our nations Social Security system
serves as a vital lifeline for millions of individuals with severe
disabilities. We feel compelled to share our unique insight into the
Social Security system because we know firsthand the dangers of
mischaracterizing the disability programs via sensational,
anecdote-based media accounts, leaving vulnerable beneficiaries to pick
up the pieces."

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