The Great “Entitlements” Rip-off

One of the most debilitating aspects of contemporary American society is the entitlement mentality… the attitude that, just because a government program exists, it is permissible to stretch the rules a bit to take advantage of it.

The two most widely abused welfare programs of the current era are the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Food Stamp Program, and the Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, intended to provide a monthly stipend to low income people and to the aged, blind, or disabled.

The Food Stamp Program is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with benefits distributed by state governments.  The original food stamp program was enacted in 1939 and disbanded in 1943.  The program was reestablished in 1961-1964 under JFK’s New Frontier and was made a permanent part of LBJ’s Great Society with the signing of the Food Stamp Act of 1964.

In 1984, as more and more recipients reported embarrassing indignities in super market checkout lines, the Department of Agriculture implemented an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system, utilizing a plastic card similar to a bank debit card.  After expanding to some 28 million families by the mid-1990s, the program experienced a major decline in the wake of welfare reform proposals enacted by a Republican Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton.

From the Kennedy era in the early ‘60s through the turn of the century, the program grew from 400,000 recipients to 46.4 million recipients as of March 2012, each receiving an average of $133 per month in food subsidies.  In fiscal year 2011, $76.7 billion in food stamp subsidies were distributed, compared to $17 billion in fiscal year 2000.  Now, in the final year of the Obama administration, which works very hard at creating dependency among the poor and middle class, the Agriculture Department has implemented an outreach program to promote and expand the use of food stamps as a means of solidifying the Democratic Party’s voter base.

But the favorite target of rip-off artists currently is the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI), administered by the Social Security Administration and funded with U.S. Treasury funds. According to a July 2, 2012 report by Terrence P. Jeffrey of, the Social Security Administration reported a record 8.73 million workers, along with some 165,470 spouses and 1.9 million children, received SSI payments during the month of June 2012, with each worker receiving an average monthly check of $1,111.42… a major increase from the 3.33 million workers receiving benefits as recently as June 1992.

According to the report, the Social Security System’s Disability Insurance Fund has run deficits in each of the last three fiscal years and the administration has found it necessary to borrow money to pay benefits.  In fiscal 2009, the Disability Insurance Trust Fund deficit was $8.5 billion.  In fiscal 2010, it was $20.8 billion.  And in fiscal 2011 it was $25.3 billion.

Jeffrey explains that, “To be eligible for federal disability insurance payments, a person must have worked long enough to have qualified for the benefits (funded by a 1.8 percent payroll tax) and must meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of ‘disabled.’ ”

But it is in the definition of “disabled ” that the system breaks down and the means of access to SSI benefits becomes a major taxpayer rip-off.  According to the Social Security Administration website, an individual may be considered “disabled” if they are 18 years of age, or older, have a medically determined physical or mental impairment which results in the inability to do any substantial gainful activity, and can be expected to result in death, or, has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

A great many of the newly approved SSI recipients are able-bodied men and women who have used up their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, claiming “emotional stress” from nearly two full years of being unemployed.  It is this latter specification… embracing any physical or mental impairment that can be expected to last for a period of at least 12 months… that has created a massive loophole for SSI abuse.

Since the SSI program was discovered by professional freeloaders, an entire new field of law has evolved.  According to a December 22, 2011 Wall Street Journal expose, “In 2004, Congress made it easier for non-lawyers to represent applicants for Social Security disability benefits…  One firm, in particular, has enjoyed enormous success.  Last year, Binder & Binder collected $88 million in fees, making it the nation’s largest Social Security disability advocate.”

Anyone who watches TV regularly is familiar with ads for the Binder & Binder firm which classifies itself, not as a law firm, but as a “national social security disability advocate.”  It maintains offices in 24 major cities across the country.

I know of two individuals who have been awarded lifetime SSI benefits.  The first, a male, approximately 55 years of age, has been an SSI recipient since his mid-40s.  His disability?  He finds it impossible to maintain meaningful employment because he is an alcoholic, is addicted to hard drugs, and has a gambling addiction.  During those periods when he has held full time employment he found it difficult to bring home a regular paycheck because he could not resist the lure of alcohol, drugs, and the gambling casinos.  He has four children, by three different women, and each of those children received a monthly SSI check until their 18th birthday.

His SSI benefits were won with the assistance of an attorney who specializes in Social Security disability cases, a field of law in which attorneys win at least 80 percent of their cases before administrative law judges… an incestuous relationship that demands the attention of the IRS, the FBI, and/or congressional oversight committees.

The other individual is a female, 49 years of age, who has been an SSI recipient for just over a year.  Her disability?  She claims to suffer from periodic fits of depression, making it impossible for her to maintain full time employment.  She too won her case with the assistance of a Social Security advocacy lawyer who won benefits for her retroactive to the day a mental health professional advised her that she suffered from depression.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Following the 2004 law, Binder hired lower-paid non-lawyers to handle cases, ramped up advertising, and began processing far greater numbers of clients.  But now former employees are raising questions about whether the firm has been fair to the government.”

They report that, “The firms collect fees only if they win, and at the hearings where decisions are made, there are no government lawyers pushing back against applicant claims, leaving it solely up to an administrative law judge to sniff out misleading applications.  In interviews with the Journal, five former Binder employees said staffers routinely withheld from government submissions medical records that they believed to be potentially damaging to client claims.  The firm had a system, they said, that used red stickers to highlight unfavorable information in client files, and that material often would be left out of court submissions.”  Of course, Binder & Binder is not the only bad actor in the SSI rip-off business.  Hundreds of other firms across the country are equally as guilty of “gaming” the system for fun and profit.

When Republicans regain control of Congress, they must make it a priority to reverse the entitlement mentality.  One way to do that would be to establish, county-by-county, entitlement review boards… similar to the local draft boards of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War… with the responsibility to reevaluate, case-by-case, the eligibility of food stamp and SSI recipients, the names being drawn at random much like the juror selection system.  Food stamp and SSI recipients would be given the opportunity to avoid fines and the embarrassment of a public inquiry by declaring themselves ineligible.  Those who failed to declare themselves able-bodied and ineligible, but were later found to be ineligible after board review, would be removed from the rolls and required to pay fines and/or make partial restoration of funds.

A 1995 Cato Institute study reported that, between 1990 and 2000, the number of immigrants on SSI was expected to grow fivefold and the number of drug addicts and alcoholics receiving benefits was expected to grow eightfold.  That growth has continued and accelerated under the Obama administration.  During the 2nd quarter of 2012, the Obama economy created just 225,000 new jobs, while 246,000 workers wangled their way onto the SSI rolls, many of them claiming stress-related ailments related to spending 99 weeks on the unemployment rolls.

The choice the American people face in November is more than a simple choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  It’s much more than that.  The choice we have to make is whether we want to be the great country we’ve been since 1787, or do we want to pattern ourselves after Greece, Italy, or Spain.  The United States cannot exist as a European-style social welfare state, the political efforts of Barack Obama, notwithstanding.  The damage that has been done by liberals and Democrats must be reversed and repaired.  There is no better time to begin the process than November 6, 2012.  The choice is ours.

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