Social Security Disability in Puerto Rico under Investigation

Which states would you need to visit if you wanted to find the top 10 zip codes for Social Security Disability benefits? While New Jersey and Wyoming are the two most generous states in terms of approved Social Security Disability benefits, you could visit nine of the top ten zip codes for SSDI approval rates without visiting either of them. As a matter of fact, you could visit nine of the top ten zip codes for SSDI payments without visiting a single US state.

It may sound hard to believe, but it’s true. Nine of the top ten zip codes in terms of SSDI beneficiaries are found in the US territory of Puerto Rico. The acceptance rate of Social Security Disability claims is an incredible 63%. When you consider that only about 30% of initial Social Security Disability claims are accepted country-wide, it really makes you wonder what’s happening on the little island territory.

It has certainly made the Social Security Administration (SSA) wonder, at the very least. While states and territories are allowed, within the SSA’s guidelines, to make their own determinations regarding who is and is not awarded disability benefits, SSDI is a federal program. With Puerto Rico’s acceptance rate decidedly higher than the rest of the country, the SSA has sent in an investigative team headed up by the Office of the Inspector General to determine the reason.

Because the Puerto Rico Social Security Disability acceptance rate has nearly doubled in recent years, one theory is that the territory has widespread disability fraud. It is believed this may be a symptom of the island’s longstanding double digit unemployment rate. Puerto Rico currently has more than 15% unemployment, and has struggled with double digit inflation for over 30 years.

It’s important to note that while fraud is being considered as a likely cause in the rapid increase in SSDI recipients in Puerto Rico, that the investigation has not been conducted yet, and the Inspector General has not yet officially determined that fraud is a major factor. The Inspector General is expected to look at a number of other considerations as well in determining the root cause for the disproportionately high number of SSDI recipients in Puerto Rico.

As the number of people enrolled in Social Security Disability programs skyrockets across the country, we can expect that the SSA will begin to take a closer look at the inconsistent methods used to determine who is and who isn’t qualified for SSDI and other Social Security Disability programs. Other states with high approval rates are also likely to be scrutinized if their acceptance rates are significantly higher than the national average.

While the Office of the Inspector General has been quietly working on SSDI fraud cases since its inception in the mid ‘90s, including many cases in Puerto Rico, this current probe was largely in response to an article in The Wall Street Journal which highlighted the lack of consistency in the SSDI program from one state or US territory to the next. The report in particularly focuses on how much easier it seemed to be for applicants to be approved for Social Security Disability in Puerto Rico than in other US states and territories.