Amid the Budget Battle, Remembering the Rationale for SSD

Critics who try to paint the Social Security disability (SSD) system as excessively expansive are out in force again as the partial government shutdown continues. Checks continue to go out for now, as we discussed last week.

But critics contend that, given Congressional pressure to cut the budget, the SSD system may be one of the large government programs most at risk going forward.

These critics tend to forget some key points. For starters, it is Congress itself that has significantly expanded the definition of disability in recent years.

The inclusion of certain serious mental conditions as disabling conditions did not drop inexplicably from Mars into the federal code. Nor was it surreptitiously put there in the middle of the night by nameless federal bureaucrats in the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Rather, the SSA has done its best to follow the lead of Congress. And Congress has undeniable broadened the definition of disability beyond what it was a generation ago. The evolution of this definition has reflected evolving understandings in society of what it means to be disabled.

There is also the fact that, as the American population ages, more and more people tend to suffer from disabilities. Again, this is not because Uncle Sam has gone soft and let too many people qualify as disabled. It is because the population is aging, especially the big baby-boomer generation, and this naturally tends to result in more disability claims.

It’s true that the Social Security disability program therefore costs a lot of money, as the popular news program 60 Minutes highlighted this week. But that does not mean there is an absence of a valid underlying reason for the program itself.

Source: CBS News, “What happens when the U.S. disability fund runs dry?” 60 Minutes, Oct. 6, 2013