The Social Security Administration once again is floating an extremely ableist proposal: using social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook, to monitor people with disabilities who receive disability benefits from the government. The agency is arguing this is necessary to fight fraud, ensuring that people who “aren’t really disabled” won’t be able to collect benefits. For the disability community, the implications of this proposal are significant — and very scary.
The government provides many forms of disability benefits. But most people think of Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income when they hear “disability.”
Social Security Disability Insurance is paid to people who worked at some point during their lives. It’s linked to their earnings, with people generally making less than $1,200 in benefits every month.
Supplemental Security Income is paid to people who have very limited income, and it’s means-tested. People on this program have very strict income and asset limits. If they make too much money or have too much in savings, they can be dropped from the program and may lose eligibility for other means-tested programs, such as Medicaid. Some argue these limits are artificially low, keeping people in poverty.
To receive these benefits, people have to provide evidence of disability. The government can investigate people prior to paying out benefits, and it may open up an investigation at any time if it thinks someone is behaving fraudulently. Medical records can be a compelling source of evidence here — as can checking out someone’s social media, interviewing friends and family and sometimes even sending an investigator to look into a person. These are all tactics private insurance companies use, too. And in some cases, social media companies have fought to protect data.
So what the government wants to do is not exactly new, but it does want to expand…