Trump Administration Tells People On Disability To Sit And Spin

The Trump administration is working on new rules for the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program that appear to be designed -- you might want to sit down for this -- to kick people out of the program. (SSDI has long been a target of rightwing assholes who are certain that too many people qualify, and Trump is nothing if not a sloppy gift to rightwing assholes.) HuffPo reviews the draft rules, which were published in November. The public comment period is open until January 17, after which the administration will do as it pleases and then get sued.

As things stand, people who make it through the Sisyphean rigors of actually qualifying for SSDI already have to demonstrate every few years that they're still disabled. The new rules would add one more layer of review for certain recipients by adding a new category of disability classification that would require more frequent re-qualification than under the current system. The goal seems to be to eject people from the system by tossing more bureaucracy at them, all in the name of keeping SSDI "accountable."

And if disabled people end up without the help they need, that's a bummer, but if they didn't get through the paperwork process they must have been faking, right? It's precisely the same logic as red states' hard-on to add work requirements for people on Medicaid. The stated goal is reducing "fraud," but there's very little fraud. But if a lot fewer people get benefits, that's a win, and proof there were too many fraudulent takers living the high life off the hard-working taxpayer.

The fiscal responsibility bafflegab in the Social Security Administration's proposal says the new rules are needed to "maintain good stewardship of taxpayer dollars by ensuring only those who continue to meet our standards for disability continue to receive benefits." As HuffPo notes, the best the document can come up with is a weak insistence that "We believe that there may be positive employment effects as a result of these proposed rules, although we cannot currently quantify them."

Beyond failing to demonstrate that there's a serious problem with no-longer-disabled people receiving SSDI, the proposal resorts to transparently lying with statistics. Noting that the majority of people who are on disability for over a year never return to a "substantial gainful activity" (SGA) level -- the official metric for being able to make a living through employment -- the "analysis" makes a thunderingly misleading cause and effect claim to justify pushing people off SSDI whenever possible:

However for those people who do return to the work force, employment rates are higher the shorter the time a person is out of the work force. For example, in 2013, 35.5 percent of the 40-year-old adults who had been out of the work force for 1 year returned to work at an SGA level. The percentage of the 40-year-olds who returned to work at an SGA level dropped to 27.1 percent after 2 years out of the work force, 17 percent after 3 years, and to only 7.4 percent after 7 years.

Any reasonably bright first-year college writing student should be able to see what they did there.

Those out of the workforce for shorter times have a higher employment rate? That probably has something to do with less-seriously-injured people getting well enough to return to work, not some arbitrary limit on how long they receive benefits. It's like the old joke about the scientist who concludes that since cutting off a grasshopper's legs leaves it unable to jump when he yells "Jump," then legless grasshoppers are deaf.

Jesus fucking Christ, whoever put that backwards-logic idiocy in a federal document should be ashamed of themselves. Lucky for them, they work for Donald Trump.

Next up, we expect the administration to demand that emergency rooms stop admitting trauma patients, since people who go straight home from the ER instead of being admitted have far better survival rates and lower costs.

Anyway, here's HuffPo's summary of what exactly the proposal would do:

Once an application is approved, the government conducts "continuing disability reviews" every so often to make sure the beneficiary still can't work. How often the reviews occur depends on whether the applicant's chance of medical improvement gets classified as expected, possible, or not expected.

The draft rule would add a new category: medical improvement likely, as in likelier than possible, but not as likely as expected. Reviews would occur "approximately every two years," as opposed to within 18 months for people with expected medical improvement and within 3 years for those with possible improvement.

The proposal carefully avoids predicting how many people would lose benefits, but it would probably be quite a few, since the government does calculate the new category would save about $2 billion over 10 years, which in the US budget is mouse farts. Ah, but here's some fun: The proposal estimates that those more-frequent reviews -- about 2.6 million of 'em over a decade -- would cost $1.8 billion.

So yeah, the Trump administration wants to throw thousands, possibly tens of thousands, off SSDI for the sake of "saving" $20 million a year over a goddamn decade. And of course, none of the people who lose those benefits will need any other services, because every one of them will no longer be disabled and would become self-supporting. Again, that's some bullshit, but it gives Trumpers the chance to go on Fox News and insist they're clamping down on people faking disability. Fox News loves a good "Lazy takers are faking disability" story almost as much as it loves stories about food stamp recipients buying crab legs. (Which is why Trump is also throwing kids and families off food stamps -- which like these SSDI revisions will cause plenty of misery without any significant savings.) The cruelty truly is the point.

Mind you, none of this will satisfy rightwing critics anyway, just as Bill Clinton's ending "welfare as we know it" increased misery while impressing the Right not a single bit. Tom Cotton will continue to insist SSDI recipients are faking it, and Fox News will keep whining that too many veterans are lazy layabouts pretending to have PTSD. After all, they're making a comfortable living pretending there's a welfare fraud crisis, and they've become dependent on it.

[HuffPo / Federal Register / Media Matters]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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