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How would Social Security disability be reformed?

The current administration's budget director commented over the weekend that Social Security Disability is a "very wasteful program," that it is "the fastest growing" and that the disability component is not something most people think of when they think of Social Security. That SSD is characterized as "very" wasteful is usually the cue to make an argument that the program needs "reform" or, as he put, "fixed."

The trouble is always in what is meant by reform or fix. It is usually code for reducing the size of the program, which is why critics often try to make it seem that SSD is wasteful and many individuals obtained their benefits by fraud. Because, absent that line of thought, it is very difficult to see any circumstance where benefits to SSD recipients could be reasonably reduced.

Applying for SSD benefits is a complex and difficult endeavor. Many successful beneficiaries have resorted to working with an attorney, as the procedures can be confusing and having the assistance of a professional who understands all of the Social Security Administration's jargon and how to present the applicant's case to increase the likelihood of success is often necessary.

Because of the rigor of the application process, the best available statistics indicate that "waste and fraud" within the program is less than 1 percent. With an average benefit payment of just slightly over the federal poverty line for an individual, it is unclear how the program could be "fixed," short of severely cutting back on current benefits and further restricting those in the future.

The program has grown over the years due to larger numbers of individuals being eligible after having paid into the system through their payroll taxes. Because few people expect to become disabled during their lifetime, few pay much attention to SSD. That is, until they suffer an illness or injury that leaves them out of work. At that point, they likely think of little else.

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