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Criticism of Social Security Disability program misleading

The Social Security Disability program has made the news quite a bit in Missouri recently. Opponents of the program have tried to paint it as a way for people to avoid work by receiving government benefits. Some misunderstandings about how SSD works may lead some people to reach this unfair assumption.

SSD benefits come from the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which is administered by the federal Social Security Administration. To be eligible for benefits, an applicant must have previous work history. That is because, similarly to Social Security retirement benefits, beneficiaries paid into the system through tax withholdings from their paychecks when they were able to work. In addition, a successful applicant must have one or more disabling conditions severe enough to prevent them from continuing to work.

Though many disabled people rely on SSD benefits to pay necessary expenses, no one is getting rich off the program. Most beneficiaries only receive about $13,000 per year, barely above the federal poverty level, and only about 45 percent of applicants are approved.

Those who are approved tend to be severely disabled. One beneficiary is a man in his mid-40s who used to own a tree-cutting business until he developed severe pain from herniated discs in his neck and back. The discs affected nerves in his arm and leg, forcing him to give up his business. He tried working as a retail salesman but his condition made it impossible to continue. He currently is almost unable to move because of the pain and cannot stay in the same position for more than 20 minutes. There are many people in Missouri who are similarly affected by disability who rely on SSD benefits.

Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer, "Social Security Disability Insurance benefits our neighbors: Debra Shifrin," Debra Shifrin, April 27, 2013

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