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Rural communities painted as relying too much on disability payments

The saying “statistics lie and you can lie with statistics,” proved true in a recent Washington Post article attempting to paint rural Americans as using Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as their fall-back income when they could’t find jobs.

“This is a strategy used by ill-intentioned politicos when they want to see cutbacks in the social safety net,” said Kevin J. Bambury, attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC. “As an attorney who sees clients from many of the poorer rural areas of Western New York, I found the article totally off the mark. It was clearly an attempt to stigmatize and demean those who collect SSDI benefits.”

The article used as an example one low-income family from rural Alabama, asking the question was the individual involved disabled, or desperate?

“The truth is, those who apply for disability benefits have paid into the system for years, and — in order to be approved for benefits — must prove they cannot work at their former job or at any job in the local economy due to physical or mental health limitations,” Bambury said. “It is very difficult to be awarded benefits, and the vast majority of my clients would prefer to be working than to be in poor health and relying on SSDI.

“SSDI provides a minimal income that is barely enough to keep a roof over your head and food on the table.  It’s not a lifestyle anyone would choose.”

When the Center for American Progress (CAP) investigated the Post’s story, it found the paper had doubled the actual number of children and working-age adults receiving SSDI.  The Post also failed to include data for nearly 100 of the rural counties it was analyzing.

“The Post claimed ‘one-third of working age adults’ in rural communities were collecting SSDI, when in fact CAP was able to find only one county out of 3,143 where that was the case — and that was a county of about 21,000 residents,” Bambury said. “The reality is in rural counties, about 9.1 percent of working-age adults are on SSDI, which is 3 percent higher than the national average.

“If you look at the traditional jobs held by those in rural counties — farming, for example — you see that the work is far more physical than the majority of jobs in urban areas.  This alone explains the slightly higher percentage.”