In July, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report showing that, as many Americans suspect, there are places where government safety net programs are abused and ripe for reform.
GAO focuses on two programs, unemployment insurance (UI) and disability insurance (DI), and the “double dippers” who collect payments from both.
The UI and DI programs were designed to help two different populations, both of whom are without incomes: UI supports workers who have been laid off and are looking for jobs, while DI supports individuals with a physical or mental impairment that prevents or limits their ability to earn a living.
Double dippers draw from both UI and DI for income, having found a way to have “the government replace a portion of their lost earnings not once, but twice,” as GAO explains. By design, a person should not be drawing from both programs: A condition of UI is to be seeking employment, whereas the condition of DI is to be unable to work.
Take the case of a woman who collected a cool $62,000 in combined government payouts through DI and UI while managing to work and collect another $7,000 in income. Her DI benefits were based on a malady from the classification of “Affective Disorders and Substance Addiction Disorders (Drugs).”As of April, she was still collecting $2,377 a month in DI benefits while the Social Security Administration reviews her case.
A second individual admitted to defrauding both the UI and DI programs by working construction while collecting benefits. Ironically, his initial disability benefit was awarded due to a back ailment. Most amazing is the fact that his UI payments were drawn from four different states, showing true determination to stay on the public dole. As of April, he, too, was still receiving disability payments for back problems—while doing construction, mind you.
Trustees for the 2012 DI trust fund report that it will be exhausted by 2016, two years sooner than predicted in the 2011 report. The UI trust funds are not in any better shape; most state UI trust funds are so depleted that they continue to make payments only because of loans from the federal government.
Going after the kinds of fraud detailed in the GAO report is important, but that alone will not wring enough savings to get DI or other entitlement programs on solid footing. Common-sense reforms can be made that direct income support to those who need it. Heritage analyst David John gives an example: Stop sending Social Security benefits to millionaires’ kids.
We live in a country where 49 percent pay no federal income tax. The 51 percent of Americans who shoulder the responsibility of supporting these growing federal programs that teeter on insolvency should listen carefully to the debate on federal spending and reforming social safety net programs. For those who truly need these programs, and for those who pay the taxes to sustain them, there is no room for $62,000 payments to double dippers or benefits to the mega-wealthy.