Myths about Disability Fraud

A few months ago, public radio did a report on disability benefits in America. The reporter, Chana Joffe-Walt, argued that more and more poor and unemployed people who were not disabled and who should have been getting welfare from individual states were drawing Federal disability benefits. She gave the impression that anyone could get SSDI just by going before a judge and asking for it. Nobody from a disability advocacy group was interviewed, nor were any disability scholars or disability lawyers. The ADA and the fact that many disabled people are out of work because employers refuse accommodations, requiring for example that cashiers stand up all day, were not mentioned. The struggle of having repeatedly to prove to the Social Security Administration that, say, one still has MS in order to get benefits was ignored. The fact that a person has chronic back pain that makes them unable to do any of the jobs available in their region was framed as a case of unemployment but not disability. But the story gained enormous traction and is still circulating and being built upon, feeding into the myth that there’s an epidemic of fraud.

Here’s some rebuttals. Our friend s.e. smith collects a bunch of challenges to public radio’s claims in a link-rich post called “NPR Joins Liberal Attacks on Disabled People.” Media Matters, as ever, takes on conservative versions of the narrative in “Myths and Facts Behind the Campaign to Attack Disability Benefits.” The Columbia Journalism Review was not happy with the report’s use of selective and misleading data and linked to other critiques as well.

So although I think Tammy Duckworth did a great job with Castillo, I’m not sure about her “People like you are why disability benefits are in danger.” It seems to me that cheats and fraudsters, appalling as they are, aren’t chiefly to blame for the attacks on the idea of disability benefits. As we’ve seen in discussions on this blog, there’s plenty of people who just don’t want disabled people to exist; and there’s surely plenty more who aren’t necessarily hateful in that way but who don’t want disabled people to receive state support. And many who don’t care but like a sensational news story to spice up their lives. Sure, actual fakery is part of what makes people suspicious — but look at what one commenter on the s.e. smith post says about the atmosphere in the U.K.: propaganda and media campaigns may also be engines of unwarranted and harmful suspicion.

ETA: O SIXTY MINUTES NO (again, a nice collection of supporting links at the bottom)

One thought on “Myths about Disability Fraud

  1. When this article was brought up in class, I found the attack ridiculous, and compared the story to what occurs at the restaurant I work at. We have our share of people who complain about the food not being cooked properly or that it was missing an item, etc. in order to get a discount or free food. They work the system to their advantage and complain even though most of the time, their orders come out just as they had requested them. Overall though, those types of fraud happen once in a while much like how the percentages of those scamming to get disability benefits are extremely low (and hard to attain with the rigorous application process). The point is that no system is perfect. You will always have someone who wants to reap some benefit at the expense of others, but in both situations, it’s one of those things that doesn’t occur much to raise your blood pressure about. Am I angry that my tax money is being put toward people who cheated the system? Yes, but I wouldn’t feel right if they cut disability benefits when most of the money IS going towards people who really need it. People like Chana Joffe-Walt really need to start looking at the bigger picture instead of focusing on the minor flaws. By narrowing in on the few cheaters, they are risking the lives of many others who need the federal support (they also need to get their facts straight before making assumptions because it makes THEM look foolish and another word).
    I also agree that the media’s portrayal of the story has a huge affect on society. There are definitely some eugenicists present today who take opportunities like these to support their cause for a more “perfect” world. I also feel like nowadays newspapers, magazines, and even some news stations are shifting their focus to a “money” mindset at the expense of the truth. “What will get people to switch to our channel? What will compel them to buy more copies of the paper?” These types of thinking result in the minor tweaks in the story that makes it more fascinating, but can have some negative affects.

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