Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) maintains high levels of program integrity, despite periodic claims to the contrary, and the program has many safeguards against fraud and abuse.
- Strict eligibility standards. DI's most potent defense against fraud and abuse is strict eligibility rules. By law, DI requires a past work history, a severe and long-lasting impairment that prevents the applicant from doing substantial work and is documented by medical evidence, and a five-month waiting period. These standards are among the toughest among developed countries. Only about 40 percent of DI applicants are awarded benefits (see graph), and there's little evidence that most beneficiaries could support themselves by working.
Though SSA works hard to fight fraud and reduce improper payments, it could do more -- especially if it had the resources and powers to do so. Several bills in Congress would give SSA more legal tools. Crucially, the agency needs stable and predictable funding -- as an expert panel of the Social Security Advisory Board and OIG have urged.
As the Bipartisan Policy Center notes, "fraud is not the reason for [DI's] current funding shortfall." Lawmakers should support SSA's anti-fraud efforts, not use fraud as an excuse to gut this vital program.