60 Minutes has a distressing account of how many people are turning to disability fraud because they economy is so bad. I can understand that people are desperate to care for their families, but this is an abuse of the disability system. We need to encourage unemployed people to move away from distressed areas and into parts of the country that are hurting for labor.
There is a Senate hearing scheduled tomorrow on a subject of some importance to millions of Americans, but with the government shutdown it's not clear that the Senate Committee on Government Affairs will be able to pay for a stenographer to record the event. The hearing involves the Federal Disability Insurance Program, which could become the first government benefits program to run out of money. When it began back in the 1950s it was envisioned as a small program to assist people who were unable to work because of illness or injury.
Today, it serves nearly 12 million people -- up 20 percent in the last six years -- and has a budget of $135 billion. That's more than the government spent last year on the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and the Labor Department combined. It's been called a "secret welfare system" with it's own "disability industrial complex," a system ravaged by waste and fraud. A lot of people want to know what's going on. Especially Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Tom Coburn: Go read the statute. If there's any job in the economy you can perform, you are not eligible for disability. That's pretty clear. So, where'd all those disabled people come from?
The Social Security Administration, which runs the disability program says the explosive surge is due to aging baby boomers and the lingering effects of a bad economy. But Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Subcommittee for Investigations -- who's also a physician -- says it's more complicated than that. Last year, his staff randomly selected hundreds of disability files and found that 25 percent of them should never have been approved -- another 20 percent, he said, were highly questionable.
I'm sure that non-disabled people would rather sit at home and collect a check than move to the Northwest and pick pears, but why should taxpayers finance that preference?
Over 80 percent of America's fresh pears are grown in the Pacific Northwest, and this year's harvest is slated to be one of the biggest on record.
But some of the fruit is rotting in the orchards because there aren't enough workers to pick them.
Mike McCarthy farms about 300 acres of pears in Oregon's Hood River Valley. He has about 60 workers harvesting in his fields, but would like to have about 30 more.
"Normally we would have picked these Comice [pears] at least 10 days ago, but we're just getting here now," says McCarthy. "And it's not a good thing."
Many farmers are short-staffed this year. For McCarthy, it's the third year in a row he has had a labor shortage. He's tried the employment office, but those workers didn't have any agriculture experience, and they didn't last more than a couple of days. He's looked for workers in Arizona and California, but found those states facing similar shortages.