Recently I saw a headline for an article that read, “Disability, the New Welfare.”

The headline called to mind an experience my wife had with what we’ll call “the system.”


My wife has cancer. She is in the treatment process and the prognosis is good. Her employer has been exemplary and the insurance they provide good by contemporary standards. My wife carries the insurance for both of us and the co-payments and deductibles, while substantial, are fair, given the high cost of insurance. We do not have any complaints regarding her employer but do have observations regarding the system.

My wife has been on sick leave for a number of months while she has been in treatment. At first, her benefits fell under what is called “short-term disability” where the recipient receives partial pay. After a period of time and the person does not return to work they fall under “long-term disability” that works in a similar manner to short-term disability. While short-term disability is handled by the employer and their insurance company, long-term disability is handled by a third-party insurance company.

The third-party company requires the recipient to apply for SSI benefits. The obvious goal is move the recipient from long-term disability to the SSI tax-payer supported system.

The way this is done is interesting. To stay qualified for long-term disability my wife had to apply for SSI. She had to list the top five reasons she could not return to work. The third-party company provided her with an extensive list to pick the top five reasons. She told them she intended to return to work ASAP but they told her she still had to apply for SSI.

To be fair to them this is understandable. Cancer can be unpredictable and good intentions do not always turn out to be reality. Far better to have applied and not need SSI than to procrastinate and then need it only to find that it can be a long and painful process to get it.

So, my wife dutifully applied and was turned down which we understand as not being uncommon.

Case closed right? Not so fast. The third-party company is having her reapply again even though it appears she will return to work with 1-2 weeks. I am sure that the third-party’s reasoning is the same. It’s better to get the process moving and not need it than it is to assume a person will be back to work.

Here’s what bugs us though. It would be remarkably easy for my wife to game the system. With her type of cancer and the prescribed treatment one could delay a decision to return to work almost indefinitely or at least long enough to apply and reapply to SSI until one got it.

The third-party actually encourages people in this direction and asks if there is anyone else the person knows who might benefit from the third-party helping them achieve SSI benefits.

This is where the article’s headline comes into focus. “Disability the New Welfare” seems to walk a fine line between meeting a genuine need and helping people with lesser character than my wife to game the system at the expense of the tax-payer.

Here’s an excerpt from the article that seems to sum up the dilemma:

It’s almost impossible, Eberstadt writes, “for a medical professional to disprove a patient’s claim that he or she is suffering from sad feelings or back pain.” And that’s assuming a doctor wants to disprove the claim.

In an illuminating and predictably controversial exposé for “This American Life,” NPR’s “Planet Money” team tried to figure out why, since 2009, nearly 250,000 people have been applying for disabilities every month (while we’ve averaged only 150,000 new jobs every month).

The answers fall on both sides of the gray middle.

One factor has to do with what correspondent Chana Joffe-Walt calls the “Vast Disability Industrial Complex.” These are the sometimes shady, sometimes well-intentioned lawyers who fight to fatten the rolls of disability recipients. These lawyers get a cut of every winning claimant’s “back pay.” The more clients, the bigger the take. That’s why they run ads on TV shouting, “Disabled? Get the money you deserve!” Goldberg: Is Disability the New Welfare

A social welfare system that’s basic premise seems to be people’s honesty is a recipe for scamming the system.

Ronald Reagan famously said in regard to the Soviets and arms reductions that it is wise to trust but verify. The same should apply to welfare systems.

Proverbs 24:26 states:

Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips. (ESV)

The basic meaning is that a person who chooses to be honest respects the other party or in this case the system that does try to meet legitimate needs. The problem is people who do not fear and respect the Lord (Pro. 1:7) may have little respect for their neighbor or the system when the temptation to get something for nothing is too strong.