Recently, Sen. Tom Cotton attempted to link Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to heroin use.
According to the Huffington Post, Cotton made the remarks while speaking at a Heritage Foundation event, saying that there is a correlation between people collecting SSDI benefits in several Appalachian counties and drug usage.
“It’s hard to say what came first or caused the other: population decline or increased disability usage — or maybe economic stagnation caused both,” Cotton said, according to the HuffPost.
Cotton indicated there is a tipping point when SSDI recipients passively receive benefits and when the program becomes a “way of life.”
“Population continues to fall, and a downward spiral kicks in, driving once-thriving communities into further decline,” Cotton said, according to the HuffPost. “Not only that, but once this kind of spiral begins, communities could begin to suffer other social plagues as well, such as heroin or meth addiction and associated crime.”
Cotton’s statements had many people debating the social issues. An expert with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told the HuffPost that it is likely economic stagnation leads to population declines and increased disability use, rather than the other way around.
Furthermore, the CBPP has linked SSDI and education, as areas with lower education levels typically have a stronger concentration of people receiving benefits.
Cotton is considered by many to be an adversary of SSDI. He is currently pushing legislation that would distinguish those receiving benefits who are permanently disabled from those who are not, in addition to setting timelines for people to stop receiving benefits.
Interestingly, Arkansas has the third highest rate of SSDI usage in the country. Some Democratic leaders in the state dismissed Cotton’s remarks, saying he would not have made them if he were speaking before disabled Arkansas citizens.
Keep an Open Mind When Reading Stories About SSDI
When you see comments in the media linking SSDI to drug use or “entitlement”, you should keep an open mind. As the CBPP noted, there are multiple factors that go into disability rates being high in certain areas including the local economy, the age of citizens and education levels.
To link SSDI and drug use without support is wrong and disingenuous to people who collect benefits.
Additionally, disability enrollment has declined slightly nationally. As we noted in March, it was announced that SSDI enrollment declined from 2013 to 2014 for the first time since 1983, so many claims that the program is growing uncontrollably no longer have merit.