Disability Traps

The dole rises, while work falls.


The Social Security Administration's Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs are both growing precipitously, with a 70 percent increase in the rolls from 1985-94. The money doled out in cash benefits more than doubled over the same period, from $23 billion to $53 billion.

That's troubling not just as a matter of fiscal conservatism. Since the SSI considers drunks and drug addicts "disabled" for the purpose of the dole, it is helping over 100,000 people damage themselves on the taxpayers' tab.

At the same time, the programs' attempts to rehabilitate recipients back into the world of work are failing. General Accounting Office reports indicate that "not more than 1 out of every 1,000 DI and SSI beneficiaries leaves the rolls as a result of SSA's return-to-work assistance." (See "Drunkard's Dream," October 1995).

A new GAO study analyzes the reasons for these failures, including the programs' emphasis on forcing the client to prove and promote his or her disabilities instead of trying to find what he or she might be able to do; the risk of losing benefits through low-wage work, making that work unattractive; and the fact that neither program staff nor beneficiaries seem aware of or promote the existing vocational rehabilitation programs.