The latest Bloomberg Businessweek documents Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn‘s efforts to highlight the problems associated with the swelling ranks (23 percent growth since 2007) of Americans collecting Social Security disability payments.
Fewer than 1 percent of those who begin collecting disability go back to work, government statistics show. Meanwhile, periodic reviews meant to ensure that people drawing government checks actually are entitled to them aren’t getting done; the Social Security Administration says it doesn’t have the funds to clear a backlog of 1.4 million reviews.
Last year the program cost taxpayers $132 billion—more than the annual budgets of the Departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Commerce, Labor, the Interior, and Justice combined. “It’s really striking how rapidly this is growing, how big it’s become, and how D.C. is just afraid of it,” says Mark Duggan, a University of Pennsylvania economist and adviser to the program.
Critics including Coburn say it wouldn’t be hard to find savings by demanding more aggressive screening of applicants and more incentives for them to rejoin the workforce—if Congress only tried.