Tuesday, January 22, 2008

CBS News investigation sheds light on disability benefits rejections

CBS news should be lauded for revealing a horrendous situation within the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program -- that 16,000 people died awaiting a decision about their payments and many more are rejected as "not being disabled enough" to qualify for benefits. It sometimes takes three years for the federal government to decide if a person with a disability deserves payment, and when decisions are made, two of every three people who apply are rejected. You can see the CBS report here:

The people rejected have legitimate disabilities and should receive the SSDI that the federal government has promised all Americans if they become too disabled to work, in my opinion. Most of the disabilities mentioned in the CBS piece ARE disabilities as defined by the federal government in the Americans with Disabilities Act. One person mentioned in the story had a fracture in his spinal cord, another had a mental illness, and one person used a wheelchair due to a leg amputation.

Disability activist Linda Fullerton, founder and director of the Social Security Disability Coalition (http://groups.msn.com/SocialSecurityDisabilityCoalition), was a source in the CBS story and told me about it. She wishes many more in the news media would take this grave injustice to Americans with disabilities seriously. I agree. Television news especially needs to take notice of this crisis. TV is how most Americans get their news, and from a journalistic standpoint, this is a significant story for local, national and cable TV news because it has legitimate and newsworthy stories and images.

Some of the major print media have written some on the crisis and even editorialized about it. The New York Times took President Bush to task for the SSDI bureaucratic delays in a Dec. 11, 2007 editorial, which followed a page 1, 1700-word news story on the problem Dec. 10, 2007. The Washington Post did a shorter story about the topic in May 2007. The Washington Bureau Chief of The Buffalo News did a 1400-word in-depth story as well in May 2007.

Even with all the brouhaha about the continuing ratings slump at CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, a bad night for CBS News reaches 6-7 million viewers and a good night for the other networks has about 9-9.6 million viewers. (The week of Jan. 7, 2008 drew 6.8 million viewers for CBS News, according to TVNewser.com.) I am very glad The New York Times and The Washington Post are covering the SSDI backlog issue; they are important papers of record that reach the agenda setters of America, but in terms of reaching the average American, their numbers pale in comparison. The NY Times circulation on Sunday is about 1.6 million and The Washington Post's is around 900,000. (This Pew Center report explains where people get their news: http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?PageID=835).

I personally come from the world of print newspapers and have a loyalty to them, but these numbers speak for themselves. To truly get a news story to have some traction with the average person in America, it needs to be on TV and the Internet. And the SSDI backlog/rejections is a story topic that has the potential to affect all of us; therefore, in my opinion, every TV station in America should begin working on their own local version of the story.