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Sen. Tom Coburn worries disability program being used for unemployment benefits

Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund is expected to go broke within seven years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Sen. Tom Coburn said it could go broke before that because of “horrendous growth” in the program.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL Modified: May 30, 2011 at 12:17 am •  Published: May 30, 2011

— Sen. Tom Coburn wants a meeting with the top Social Security Administration investigator to discuss the increase in people receiving disability payments, saying he's concerned that some may be using the program as “an extension of unemployment benefits.”

The number of people collecting Social Security disability insurance payments has risen steadily in recent years. According to agency statistics, disabled workers accounted for 17 percent of all Social Security recipients in Oklahoma in 2009, up from 13 percent in 2003.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the disability insurance trust fund paying the benefits will be exhausted in seven years.

Coburn, R-Muskogee, said in an interview the fund may go broke before that because “growth in this program has been horrendous.”

Clearing blockages

While the Social Security Administration's focus has primarily been on clearing backlogs of appeals that stretch more than a year for people first denied benefits, the agency should be working just as hard to ensure that able-bodied people aren't collecting the payments, Coburn said.

Coburn said he has some personal experience: A man he hired in Muskogee to do some yard work told him that he was collecting Social Security disability payments. Coburn said Social Security workers from around the country have contacted him to tell of abuses in the program.

The Social Security Administration is supposed to do regular reviews to ensure those collecting the payments still deserve them. But the agency's inspector general estimated that the backlog of Continuing Disability Reviews would reach 1.5 million this year and that more than $1 billion may be paid out to people who don't deserve the benefits.

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