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Friday, January 16, 2015

Massachusetts and New Hampshire top residents on disability benefits

NH ranks high on disability rolls

A higher share of New Hampshire residents are on Social Security disability than in most other states, and the Granite State and Massachusetts top the country in the percentage of disability checks that go to mentally ill people, according to the Social Security Administration.
The data for December 2013, the latest available through the Social Security Administration website, show that U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ken., was incorrect on Wednesday when he said that more than half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts.
But the potential presidential candidate wasn’t far off.

The two categories that include those ailments — musculoskeletal system/connective tissue, and mood disorders — comprised nearly 42 percent of all disability claims on a national basis in December 2013.
In New Hampshire, the average monthly check for a disabled worker is $1,170.

“In any system, there’s abuse. From what I know, it’s not really substantial abuse,” said Richard Cohen, executive director of the Disability Rights Center, a federally designated agency that advocates for people with disabilities.
To get on disability and Supplemental Security Income, people apply, are often denied and must hire a lawyer to fight for the benefit, Cohen said. Many would like to work, he said, but they risk losing benefits if they take a job and don’t succeed.
“They’re stuck. There’s few, if any, opportunities,” he said.

He also said that nationally accepted figures indicate that one in 10 people suffer from a serious mental illness.

Data available from the Social Security Administration show:
• The number of people relying on a disability check — including workers, non-disabled dependents, surviving spouses and disabled adult children — totaled 12.16 million in December 2013. In 1993, the number was half that, 6.03 million.
• In New Hampshire, 6 percent of the working-age population — 51,258 people — were listed as disability beneficiaries in December 2013. Only 12 other states — nearly all Southern states, as well as Maine and Vermont — had a higher percentage of disabled workers. Nationally, disability recipients amounted to 4.8 percent.
• Nationally, musculoskeletal system problems accounted for 27.7 percent of all disabilities, compared to 21.5 in New Hampshire. Mood disorders accounted for 14 percent nationally, 22.1 percent in New Hampshire.
• At 49.9 percent, New Hampshire and Massachusetts topped the country for the percentage of people on disability who suffer from a mental disability, a category that includes mood disorders and other problems such as schizophrenia and intellectual disability.
The national percentage is 35.2 percent.

The recent recession and an aging work force are two possible factors in the growth of disability rolls, said Anett Nielsen, an economist with the New Hampshire Bureau of Economic and Labor Markets.
“If you have a disability, it probably gets tougher the older you get,” she said. In fact, Social Security Administration data show that 72 percent of disabled workers are 50 years or older.

Nielsen said a poor economy makes it difficult for disabled people to find work. If more people apply for an available job, an employer will likely hire someone who isn’t disabled, Nielsen said.
She noted that some people on disability are also employed.

Disability will soon emerge as a national issue. Last year, trustees of the Social Security and Medicare system predicted that the Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund will be depleted in late 2016.
“Lawmakers need to act soon to avoid automatic reductions in payments to DI beneficiaries in late 2016,” trustees warned.

Last week, Republicans in the House of Representatives pushed through a rule change that would prohibit a transfer from the main Social Security trust fund for what they termed the fraud-plagued disability program, Reuters reported.
Without the transfer, benefits could be cut by about 20 percent, Reuters reported.

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