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Senate: Curb disability payments to addicts

The Senate voted Wednesday to stop unsupervised cash payments to drug addicts and alcoholics who are using Social Security disability benefits to feed their habits.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine, was unanimously approved as an amendment to a bill that would make the Social Security Administration an independent agency.

That bill also passed by unanimous voice vote, after Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., declared that Social Security had been "brain-dead in the policy sense" for more than a decade and was neglected by the Clinton administration.

Social Security spends $1.4-billion a year on cash benefits to 250,000 adults who are on the disability rolls either because of their substance abuse, or because they have another long-term disabling condition as well as an addiction. Only 3 percent are known to be in treatment, Cohen said.

His legislation would require addicts and alcoholics be in treatment as a condition of receiving either Social Security or Supplemental Security Income.

Addicts and alcoholics would be required to have a responsible third party manage their benefits, such as a community service agency.

"This amendment is intended to make sure that addicts and alcoholics get treatment for their addictions and to stop federal cash payments from going into a needle or into a bottle," Cohen said.