Crowe & Shanahan
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For SSD, you have to be more than desperate

The Washington Post published a story recently that examined a family in Alabama and highlighted the growth of Social Security Disability recipients in rural counties across America. They included a map that shows rural southeastern Missouri also has concentrations of SSD beneficiaries.

Another writer commented on this story, suggesting it is misleading as an indicator of problems with the program. She reminds us that SSD is difficult to obtain and the growth was long forecast. The Post story appears to show that the receipt of SSD as a discretionary activity. A person who is out of work applies after they fail to find a job. Of course, to apply, you need to have been out of work or working so little that you avoid the threshold of "significant gainful activity," which is the cutoff for benefits.

The man profiled in the Post story had worked as a roofer. He had fallen off a roof two years ago and injured a knee. He did not have it treated, as he lacked insurance and apparently his employer either did not provide workers' compensation insurance or he did not ask, likely fearing he would lose his job if he was out with an injury.

What the story fails to explore is whether his employer was properly submitting the man's payroll tax. Some construction companies operate with off-the-books deals, where they pay their employees in cash, fail to withhold FICA tax, and often don't maintain workers' compensation insurance.

This is significant for anyone applying for SSD benefits, because if you do not have enough "quarters" of work prior to your becoming unable to work, you may be ineligible for any SSD benefits. The story is misleading, in that it suggests that the man's greatest struggle is in deciding whether to call the local SSA office.

In reality, he may not even have baseline eligibility for the program. Stories like this are a threat to the program as they imply that SSD is easy to obtain and that someone at age 40 who has difficulty finding work can simply make a call and be given benefits

Even if he is eligible, his lack of treatment history probably means there are no medical records or documentation of his knee injury. This lack of such crucial medical evidence would likely lead to a quick denial by SSA.

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