“If something goes wrong, you find a scapegoat. It’s what you do.”
– GEICO commercial featuring Rick the Screaming Scapegoat.
Congress is getting its game on, with Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate offering up a scapegoat to the base. So how are things going for disabled people so far?
As we reported previously, Republicans began the hostage-taking in January with a rules provision in the House that will effectively block full funding of our Social Security Disability Insurance Program as early as 2016. Conservatives demand that something be taken away from disabled persons because it is they who have caused things to go wrong for us. If they don’t get it, they will crash the program. You know, the usual bargaining method.
This week has brought us some new preliminary skirmishes in the coming battle. President Obama himself opened with a cynical shot at Social Security disability recipients by attacking their ability to own guns. One presumes that the effort is aimed at hitting conservatives where it hurts: chipping away at the NRA cause of universal gun ownership at all times in all places by all persons large and small. The elegance of the move is that Republicans would have to object by defending their favorite scapegoats: persons receiving disability benefits.
Score one for the liberals.
Next, the Senate took up debate on transportation funding – by of course offering to fund transportation for Americans in exchange for us denying disability insurance benefits to disabled persons who received unemployment benefits during any time period when they were unable to work because of disability. One irony in this is that a simultaneous effort in “reforming” the disability program, led of course by Congressional Republicans, purports to focus on helping persons with medical impairments stay in the work force.
Let’s get this straight. The Social Security Administration denies your application for disability insurance benefits because it says you are able to work. Since you got laid off because you could no longer do the job (which is overwhelmingly the reason my unemployed clients would have been eligible for unemployment insurance in the first place), and because supposedly you can still work, you apply for and receive temporary unemployment benefits. To which you are entitled because you were terminated without cause (other than being disabled). Unemployment payments in every case I have ever had in over 35 years had long since run out by the time an administrative law judge reversed the denial and awarded the claim. Unemployment in the vast majority of cases did no more than temporarily delay the financial disaster that is disability.
The reason you can qualify for both benefits is very simple. You can qualify for unemployment benefits under many state laws during the initial period of your disability if your residual ability to work would permit some part time employment. That is so even if the theoretical job would earn income at a reduced level that is below the amount of earnings that would disqualify you from receiving disability insurance benefits.
And then there is the fact that under existing law Social Security won’t be paying you disability payments for the first five full months (21.5 weeks) after you become disabled, which is longer than standard unemployment is payable, so there generally is no overlap in benefits anyway.
The legislative purpose of both insurance programs is to help unfortunate persons who have found themselves out of work through no fault of their own. Any overlap in benefits that currently exists is only because of emergency relief measures occasioned by high unemployment during the latest massive recession. That there might be some overlap in the programs during this economic downturn is not double dipping. It reflects the reality of the even more desperate financial situation disabled persons find themselves in in a recession.
OK, then, so who caused the recession? That’s who should pay. I blame Rick.