Pennsylvanians Adding To Federal Disability Fund Woes

HARRISBURG PA – The number of people in Pennsylvania getting monthly disability benefits through Social Security is growing at an alarming rate, The Pennsylvania Independent online news service reported Tuesday (July 16, 2013).

The state’s swelling roster of payment recipients is contributing to the decline of the disability trust fund. It’s essentially going broke, The Independent said. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the fund will be exhausted by 2018, unless changes are made.

Pennsylvanians Adding To Federal Disability Fund Woes
Social Security Administration data shows more than 390,000 Pennsylvanians qualified for disability payments in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available. That figure represents a 50-percent increase since 2003, well above the national average of 39 percent growth for the same period.

Nationally, the number of recipients getting disability payments through Social Security has more than tripled since 1970, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But the increases have been sharper in recent years. More women entering the workforce has been a contributing factor, as is a change 20 years ago that allowed children of disabled workers to qualify for benefits.

“Claims have changed over the years to simply include more people and therefore more need to explore all requirements as they relate to different audiences and situations,” said Sara Goulet, press secretary for the state Department of Labor and Industry, which oversees the Bureau of Disability Determination in Pennsylvania.

According to the bureau’s website, it processes more than 145,000 cases each year in Pennsylvania.

W. Daniel Feehan, an attorney who handles Social Security disability claims at the Montgomery County law firm of Lowenthal and Abrams, said up to 70 percent of applications for disability benefits are rejected, at first. It can take up to a year for an appeal to work its way through the system and come before a judge, which is how most beneficiaries qualify.

On top of evidence of a disabling medical condition, qualification for benefits is also based age, education level and work history, Feehan said.

That means older workers with low levels of education and long careers in physically demanding jobs are more likely to qualify, but Feehan said he has seen an uptick in the number of younger workers seeking benefits. Other research also shows the aging population is not entirely — or even primarily — responsible for the growth in disability benefits.

The aging of the U.S. population accounts for only 13 percent of the growth in disability payments to men — only 4 percent of the growth in payments to women — according to Mark Duggan and Scott Imberman of the National Bureau for Economic Research.

Graphic from The Pennsylvania Independent

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