The Social Security Administration pays an awful lot of money to people who aren’t — and never claim to be — disabled.
When a person applying for disability secures a legal representative, then is successfully awarded benefits, the lawyer or advocate who helped him gets a generous cut of the money, paid directly from the SSA’s disability fund. In the first six months of 2013, the SSA has already forked over $642.6 million to these claimant representatives, who have a significant financial interest in getting people on disability.
But these lavish payments to advocates come as Social Security’s disability program suffers from an indisputable money problem. The fund is projected to run a $75 billion cash-flow deficit this year. It could well go broke by 2016, according to an assessment by the program’s own trustees, as well as the Congressional Budget Office.
That there’s big money in getting people on disability is the natural result of both warped political ideology and warped financial incentives. That much becomes apparent after a reading of Charles E. Binder’s recent book, Social Security Disability & You, which would more appropriately be entitled Social Security Disability, You & My Very Fat Wallet.
Binder & Binder is essentially the kingpin of disability law. In 2010 alone, the firm raked in $88 million by representing disability claimants, and its TV and mass-transit ads are ubiquitous.
Charles Binder, the firm’s co-founder, has written a rotten little book, and its unintentional theme is “cause and effect.” Binder begins by explaining his insidious political ideology in the folksiest of language. And the rest continues as a how-to for getting benefits and living off the American taxpayer.
Tangentially, you’d think a firm rolling in bundles of disability cash would be able to afford proper book formatting. If you thought this, you’d be wrong. You read it and weep, both for the content and the typographical eyesores scattered throughout.
Binder can’t help but reveal his radical political stance. He’s weirdly nostalgic about the pre-industrial days of subsistence farming. “A worker’s production went directly to himself and his family,” Binder writes. “There was no outside force influencing his profits; he kept what he made.” But in the modern market economy — which, by the way, has lifted untold millions out of hand-to-mouth living — “workers were now at mercy of the large ‘market’; their security was no longer their own responsibility.”
If people can’t be held responsible for their own well-being, the role of government is to shelter them from any personal misfortune, however slight. As Binder recounts it, when Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935, he “cautioned at the time that this new Social Security program would not protect everyone against everything but it was an important step in that direction.” (Emphasis mine.)
If you accept that, the next logical step is that as many unfortunate people as possible should promptly get on the government rolls.
And, as it turns out, that’s precisely what’s happening. Binder is delighted that today one in seven Americans receive some sort of Social Security benefit. “All told, nearly $4.5 trillion (that’s $4,500,000,000,000!) has been paid out by the fund,” he notes. Retirees get most of that, of course.
But other reports show how disability claims have spiked. Eleven million Americans now collect federal disability, the Social Security Administration found this spring. The number has increased for nearly 200 months straight. And during the recession, disability became a good option for many with a plausible ailment who couldn’t find regular work. From 2007 to 2011, the number of disability beneficiaries increased a whopping 20 percent. Meanwhile, a Senate report last fall found that one-fourth of Social Security’s disability benefits were improperly awarded.