On Disability and Facebook: Uncle Sam Wants to Friend You

The White House is working on a proposal to have Uncle Sam browse social media websites, like Twitter and Instagram, to help identify individuals who claim Social Security disability benefits without actually being disabled. They would like to browse your social media presence and determine if you are participating in activities you claim you can no longer do because of your disability.

An example is an individual who claims a back injury prevents him from working. In his trip to Hawaii photos, there is one posted where he is surfing during the period of disability. The government would like to use that evidence to deny the application or stop disability payments of someone already approved and receiving benefits.

Online investigations of people seeking government benefits is not a new practice. Such investigations are routinely conducted when the government conducts a marriage-based immigration petition investigation, for example, as part of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services review to confer lawful permanent residence status on a spouse of a U.S. citizen.

The federal government is proposing conducting the same types of searches in cases involving Social Security Disability claims during the application and review process but also, post award of disability benefits.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal government program that pays monthly benefits to a person if they worked and contributed to Social Security and become disabled before they reach retirement age and their disability prevents them from working.

Last year, the Social Security department requested Congress provide it with money to conduct a study to determine whether to expand the use of social media networks in disability determinations as a way “to increase program integrity and expedite the identification of fraud,” the New York Times reports.

The inquiry into an individual’s online life is not limited to applicants alone. The White House is proposing the same scrutiny be applied to current recipients of disability benefits. More than 10 million people receive Social Security disability insurance benefits totaling more than $11 billion a month.

Unlike other social welfare government programs, SSDI beneficiaries have paid into the system through payroll taxes.

If you are receiving Social Security disability insurance or plan to apply for the program, consider the following during the application period and beyond, once approved:

  •   Make your account status private. That means that only individuals you accept into your friend or follower circle is able to see your postings.
  •   Make your friends or followers list private. While you may not post any pictures of your self salsa dancing at your niece’s wedding, your niece may, make sure you limit who can access information about you.

The SSDI program is closely monitored by the government. A group of people believe it is an entitlement program or a right, because the recipient has paid into Social Security during their productive work years. This insurance allows someone who becomes disabled before he or she retires to receive some income minimizing the financial impact of stopping work before retirement. Others see the program as a government subsidy to the poor. As such individuals applying for or currently receiving SSDI benefits should expect heighted scrutiny and make sure that their request for assistance is based on an actual disability.

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