The White House, the Senate and Social Security officials have spent the past year discussing ways to combat fraud within the country’s entitlement system. Their latest proposal, to mine social media for evidence that able-bodied beneficiaries are receiving disability payments, is the wrong response to the right objective: How to make entitlement programs both successful and cost effective.
Currently, the government pays out $11 billion monthly to roughly 10 million people on Social Security disability insurance benefits. This peaked during the Obama administration; during the Trump era, those claiming disability benefits has plummeted.
Nevertheless, accusations of fraud and “gaming the system” aren’t distant possibilities. Social Security officials estimate that the program made $3.4 billion in overpayments to those claiming disability insurance in 2017. Few question cheating exists.
To be eligible for disability benefits, one must be unemployed for 12 months based on an inability to “do basic work such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering for at least 12 months,” according to the Social Security agency website. Because of the increase in remote and online work, many people who were once unemployed are now able to find a stable income.
Snooping Facebook for photos of disability recipients skiing down a mountain would set a dangerous precedent of using personal online information for government purposes, something the Supreme Court has been clear to avoid.
Yet, identifying those who aren't eligible for benefits is necessary for paring back government waste. So too is outlining the looming reality that entitlement programs will soon require tremendous sums of money, pitching the future stability of the country toward a dangerous fiscal cliff.
Social Security already makes up a quarter of the annual U.S. budget, but projections increase as the baby boomers continue to retire and claim their benefits. By 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will have reached retirement age, according to the Census Bureau. That doesn’t make young taxpayers particularly joyful.
Lawmakers have a few options to stabilize future costs: Reduce benefits, increase taxes or cut the waste. Starting with the latter is the most prudent. Dozens of government programs overlap jurisdictions in their efforts to help the needy and disadvantaged, yet they seemingly operate without much cross-communication.
That is not a hallmark of efficient organization, and Congress has the responsibility to fix it. Congress should require greater transparency and absolute accountability that every taxpayer dollar spent makes a difference for each recipient served.
This is an area where the president can lead. Rather than pitching proposals that use questionable tactics, he should find like-minded lawmakers who can start a deep dive into where waste exists and overlap can be trimmed. He can keep his promise to not cut benefits while taking first steps to substantive entitlement reform.
It’s an area that needs leadership before future working Americans are strapped with costs they cannot pay.