Social Security Disability Insurance: Too Much Through the Cracks?

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The Social Security Administration’s Disability Insurance program is, according to the organization, the nation’s largest cash assistance program for workers with disabilities. In fiscal 2011, the most recent year for which there is complete data, the SSA paid out $128 billion in disability benefits to more than 10 million Americans who had either terminal or long-term illnesses or disabilities that prevented them from being gainfully employed.

The program is an enormously important safety net for millions of Americans. Monthly payments to those who qualify usually fall within a range between $700 and $1,400 per month. In order to qualify for disability insurance, applicants must have “worked some part of five of the last ten years before you became disabled.” Applicants must go through a five-month waiting period during which monthly income cannot exceed $1,000 — any more than this, and the applicant is considered gainfully employed. After qualifying, if a recipient finds work, he or she begins a nine-month trial period. If that person works for longer than nine months, he or she is disqualified.

Enforcement of these conditions by the SSA is fairly rigorous, but a recently released report from the Government Accountability Office reveals that there may be more improper payments slipping through the cracks than previously thought.

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