As someone who has made a career advocating on behalf of those that depend on Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits, I was disheartened to read Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column, "Disability insurance entitlement explodes under Obama" (March 3).
The percentage increase in people on Social Security disability in recent years was expected, due to the aging Baby Boomers, half of whom are now reaching "high disability years." Additionally, there has been an increase of women in the workforce in recent decades, women who are now eligible to draw on their own earnings record when they become disabled. Combined with the worst economic downturn in years, which makes it more difficult for workers with disabilities to keep their jobs, the numbers aren't surprising.
It's imperative we remember that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit; it is self-financed by payroll taxes. By law, the system cannot spend money it does not have and cannot borrow. People with disabilities who need these benefits when they cannot work should be able to receive the benefits they paid for in payroll taxes when they were able to work.
Furthermore, only individuals with the most significant disabilities are eligible for SSDI benefits. Only around 40 percent of those who apply for benefits are eventually approved, ensuring that only those who meet the strict requirements are found eligible.
Lastly, benefits are modest. Individuals receive on average around $13,500 per year, just enough to help beneficiaries avoid homelessness and bankruptcy.
Millions of American workers depend on the Social Security Disability Insurance program for life-sustaining funds. It deserves to be protected, not attacked. Congress must maintain a strong and responsive disability insurance program, while making changes to ensure its longevity for the most vulnerable American workers and their families.
Ethel Zelenske, Baltimore
The writer is the director of government affairs for the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (NOSSCR) in Washington.