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Just Thoughts is the blog of the Empire Justice Center, New York’s statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live. Here staff and guest authors will share stories, announcements and perspectives on timely issues related to our work.    



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Happy Anniversary, Social Security!


Happy Anniversary, Social Security! 

Social Security’s is turning 80! Since the retirement program was enacted in 1935, it has expanded in important ways. The disability component, introduced later, is a now critical piece of Social Security, and ensures that those who aren’t able to work have a small measure of protection. Now is the time to ensure that the Social Security programs remain strong for our future.

We join others in honoring this anniversary and calling for the program’s protection in the future.  Ask candidates where they stand on Social Security programs in the lead up to the 2016 election.









60 Minutes Gets it Wrong


CBS aired a 60 Minutes story on October 6, 2013, featuring Senator Tom Coburn (R - OK), who claims that the Social Security disability system is being “gamed,” and is in need of an overhaul.  The truth is that close to 12 million American workers and their families depend on the Social Security Disability programs for life-sustaining funds needed to help pay their basic living expenses.  60 Minutes has unfortunately joined recent media mis-portrayals of these essential disability programs.

In March 2013, we responded to a similar report on NPR’s This American Life60 Minutes is guilty of many of the same misrepresentations and omissions.  The piece implies that the Social Security Administration has opened the floodgates for unemployed workers who cannot – or don’t want to – find jobs.  This simply isn’t true.  The standard to receive disability benefits is very stringent.  In fact, less than 40% of adult applicants are approved for benefits.

The 60 Minutes report is also highly critical of some lawyers who represent disability claimants before SSA and may engage in unethical conduct.  We also condemn any incidents of fraud, but in our view those incidents are indeed isolated.  We support protecting the integrity of the system.  In fact, claimants need advocates to navigate the very complex regulatory and adjudicatory world of Social Security.  That is one of our key roles here at the Empire Justice Center – we help those in need navigate the complex legal and medical maze of pursuing federal disability benefits.  We know firsthand the gauntlet our clients are made to go through.  In a time when Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) approval rates are declining, our success rate is over 80% - underscoring how necessary our services are to our clients.

Read some of the critiques of the 60 Minutes piece:



Tags: SSA | Social Security | 60 Mintues | This American Life





This American Life and NPR Unfair and Inaccurate in Portrayal of Social Security Disability Recipients and Programs


National Public Radio (NPR) recently joined the chorus of media mis-portrayals of our country’s Social Security disability programs. In a one hour segment broadcast on This American Life and rebroadcast in shorter segments on All Things Considered, reporter Chana Joffe-Walt paints a misleading and inaccurate picture of these critical programs.

Ms. Joffe-Walt mistakenly claims that the standards for disability have changed dramatically since 1984, opening the floodgates for seemingly specious claims. This simply isn’t true. The standard remains very stringent. In fact, less than 40 percent of adult applicants are approved for benefits.

She also makes much of the so-called “Disability Industrial Complex,” as she calls the community of lawyers who represent disability claimants before the Social Security Administration. While many may find the lawyer advertising cited in the report distasteful, Ms. Joffe-Walt gives short shrift to the fact that claimants need advocates to navigate the very complex regulatory and adjudicatory world of Social Security.  In fact, that is one of our key roles here at Empire Justice Center – we help those in need navigate the complex legal and medical maze of applying for federal disability benefits. We know firsthand the gauntlet our clients are made to go through.  Our success rate of over 80% - in a time when Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) approval rates are declining - underscores how necessary our services are to our clients.

For a more detailed analysis of the misinformation in the NPR report, read the March 27, 2013 letter of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities to which Empire Justice is a signatory.

And if you want to let NPR know how you feel about the story, here are some suggested critiques developed by our national colleagues:

NPR can do better -- Take Action on Twitter, Facebook, & by phone!

Twitter: Please use the hashtag #unfittoair and tweet @NPRnews. Sample tweets:

@NPRnews “Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair. Full of errors & stereotypes abt people w/disabilities. Contact @ccd4pwd & cover the real story!

@NPRnews #SocialSecurity #SSI are lifelines 4 ppl w/severe disabilities. “Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair. Contact @ccd4pwd 4 the real story!

@NPRnews The #disability standard is strict & most apps are denied. 1 in 5 male #SSDI recips die w/in 5 yrs of getting benfts. “Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair.

@NPRnews 1 in 5 male #SSDI recipients die w/in 5yr of getting benfts. “Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair. Contact @ccd4pwd 4 the real story

@NPRnews #SSDI growth due to boomers in hi-disability yrs & women going 2 work in ‘70s/‘80s so more qualify.“Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair

@NPRnews #SSI is a lifeline 4 kids w/severe disabilities. Helps meet costs of care & encourages education. “Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair.

@CenterOnBudget has the facts on #disability after @nprnews got it wrong: http://www.offthechartsblog.org/the-facts-about-disability-insurance/

Facebook: post a comment on NPR’s wall. Sample posts:

“Unfit for Work” was unfit to air – full of errors & stereotypes about people with disabilities. Please contact info@c-c-d.org and cover the real story! “Unfit to Work” missed half the story. No mention of how hard it is to qualify for disability benefits, or how severely impaired SSDI and SSI beneficiaries are. Please contact info@c-c-d.org and cover the real story!

“Unfit to Work” was unfit to air – missing key facts. Demographics explain the growth in SSDI – boomers aging into their high-disability years and women entering the workforce in the ‘70s and ‘80s so they’re now insured for benefits. Please contact info@c-c-d.org and cover the real story!

By Phone - Call your local NPR station!

To find your local station, visit: http://www.npr.org/templates/stations/stations/

Call the station and ask to leave a message for the Station Manager. Tell them: I am outraged by NPR’s poor coverage of the Social Security disability programs. NPR’s recent story, “Unfit for Work,” was slanted, misleading, and full of errors and stereotypes of people with disabilities. NPR can do better. I urge NPR to retract this story.”

If you speak with anyone at your local NPR station who wants to do a story, please have them contact rvallas@clsphila.org or sutcliffe@thearc.org.



Tags: disability | NPR | National Public Radio | This American Life | Social Security | All Things Considered | Chana Joffe-Walt | Social Security Administration | Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities