Disability reviews won't save Social Security program from shortfall, official says

During a hearing of Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford’s subcommittee, lawmakers continued to explore the various aspects of Social Security disability programs that are facing financial shortfalls in just two years.
by Chris Casteel Modified: April 9, 2014 at 10:24 pm •  Published: April 10, 2014

— A major effort to ensure people collecting Social Security disability payments still deserve the benefits won’t save the program from a financial shortfall in two years, an agency official told a House subcommittee Wednesday.

The Social Security Administration could clear its backlog of 1.3 million disability reviews and it would have “no significant impact on extending the life of the disability trust fund,” said Marianna LaCanfora, an acting deputy commissioner at the agency.

LaCanfora’s testimony came at a hearing headed by Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, whose subcommittee has been exploring the various aspects of the Social Security disability system — from judges who approve most of the cases they see to how long children should receive payments for attention deficit disorder.

Lankford and the top Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Jackie Speier, of California, who have worked for months on the issue, developed a set of recommendations released this week to ensure the benefits go to people who qualify for them.

The number of disabled workers collecting benefits has risen from about 3 million in 1980 to nearly 11 million in 2012. There are an additional 8 million people, including children, collecting Supplemental Security Income.

The disability insurance fund has been so stressed by the influx that agency trustees expect shortfalls in 2016.

Much of the work done by Lankford — and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee — has been on potential fraud and on failures by the Social Security Administration to review the judges involved in the system and the beneficiaries who must be re-evaluated every few years.

Government watchdogs — including the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general for the Social Security Administration — have also chronicled weaknesses in the system for awarding and reviewing disability payments.

Lankford and Speier noted in a letter to the agency on Tuesday that the law requires medical disability reviews be conducted every three years for people who weren’t expected to be permanently disabled. However, the agency has a backlog of 1.3 million reviews, with nearly 1 million of those for Supplemental Security Income.

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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