The New Welfare Fight
In today’s economy, that distinction isn’t as meaningful, and SSDI’s broad definition of “disability” has lead to steadily growing rolls over the past 20 years. Many of the new enrollees claim disabilities that are hard to verify, such as mental-health problems or soft-tissue pain, leading experts to believe the system is being used as unemployment compensation. Such suspicions are bolstered by a 2002 study that found that disability claims in Appalachian coal mining country spiked when energy prices fell.
Unemployment benefits are also a significant chunk of the budget: They were expanded (along with Medicaid) in the stimulus bill, and will run up $105 billion on the federal tab this year. Unemployment was available, until just a few weeks ago, for up to 99 weeks after job loss in many states (now the maximum is 73 weeks). Unemployment benefits serve, in some cases, as a substitute for traditional welfare. Family heads who work instead of receiving welfare would be eligible for unemployment benefits in the case of job loss — without the stigma associated with welfare.
Can we can expect another round of 90’s styled fighting over these softer, but still present, welfare programs that have (seemingly) managed to evade the Clinton-era fiscal diet?