WASHINGTON — Social Security is approving disability benefits at strikingly high rates for people whose claims were rejected by field offices or state agencies, according to House investigators.
Compounding the situation, the agency often fails to do required followup reviews months or years later to make sure people are still disabled, according to investigators from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Claims for benefits have increased by 25 percent since 2007, pushing the fund that supports the disability program to the brink of insolvency, which could mean reduced benefits. Social Security officials say the primary driver of the increase is demographic, mainly a surge in baby boomers who are more prone to disability as they age but are not quite old enough to qualify for retirement benefits. The disability program has been swamped by benefit claims since the recession hit a few years ago. Last year, 3.2 million people applied for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income.
In addition, management problems "lead to misspending" and add to the financial ills of the program, the investigators said. "Federal disability claims are often paid to individuals who are not legally entitled to receive them," three senior Republicans on the House committee declared in a March 11 letter to the agency.
Social Security acknowledges a backlog of 1.3 million overdue followup reviews to make sure people still qualify for benefits. But agency officials blame budget cuts for the backlog, saying Congress has denied the funds needed to clear it.
In order to qualify, a person is supposed to have a disability that prevents him from working and is expected to last at least a year or result in death. Nearly 11 million disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security disability benefits. The average monthly benefit is $1,130. An additional 8.3 million people get Supplemental Security Income, a separately funded disability program for poor people