A recent report based upon Congressional estimates suggests that the trust funds which fund the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s disability programs (SSDI and SSI) may completely run out of money within about 6 years. While we’ve been hearing for years that the Social Security system’s future was in dire financial straits, this latest news makes a very grim reality out of what had previously seemed to be the pessimistic rants of governmental doomsday prophets.
There are several different factors which have added up to create this unpleasant forecast. First of all, during those rare occasions in years past when the Social Security system was taking in more money than it was paying out, those excess dollars were utilized to fund other programs rather than being squirreled away for future use. Although there was some token intent to eventually replenish those funds, the genuineness of that intent was seemingly rather dubious at best.
Secondly, during the 1980s Congress somewhat loosened the eligibility criteria for disability benefits. During the previous decade these standards had been made more stringent in a rather successful attempt to reduce the agency’s expenditures, even as the country’s economy floundered during the early 1980s. Congress reversed these stricter standards, resulting in an increase of beneficiaries by 1984.
Another contributing factor is the country’s current economic downturn. As our unemployment rate increasingly inches toward double-digit levels, more and more displaced workers are attempting to receive disability benefits. Also, those who are disabled but employed may be among the first to be laid off when companies seek to tighten their financial belts, leaving these workers no choice but to rely on their disability benefits for income. It is anticipated that approximately 3.3 million people will apply for disability benefits this year, an increase of roughly 1 million over a decade ago.
In addition to the financial woes faced by the disability programs, it has also been estimated that the SSA’s retirement funds will be exhausted by 2037, which is approximately 20 years after the disability programs are insolvent unless Congress intervenes.
Congressional estimates suggest that nearly 1.4 billion dollars’ worth of overpayments were sent out last year, most often as payments to those who no longer qualified to receive them. Most of us have heard the stories of those whose relatives continued to collect disability and/or retirement benefits for deceased family members. Congress’ plan is to invest approximately 4 billion dollars in ways to detect and eliminate these unnecessary expenditures and hopefully save about 12 billion dollars over the next decade.
At this point, it appears that very few if any legitimate solutions to this impending crisis are on the table. For those who are disabled and in need of disability benefits, there may already be a wait of more than a year-long wait to receive their benefits. It is obvious that the current system has been ailing for a long time. As the baby boomer generation increasingly taxes this system, America could be facing a dire economic future as the nation’s largest ever population reaches retirement age.