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Spike In Kentucky Disability Benefits Aided By Aging Baby Boomers

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A surge in the number of people receiving disability benefits in Kentucky is partly due to the state’s aging baby boomer population and other demographic trends, according to a left-leaning think tank.

Last week, state officials released a report documenting the swell of Kentuckians receiving disability payments through social security. The study accused the Social Security Administration of boosting enrollment in the disability insurance program through lax enrollment policies.

But Dustin Pugel, a research and policy associate with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said the increase is due to natural population changes.

“This is not a case of just an enormous amount of energy being put into scamming the system or actors actively trying to create a large group of dependent Kentuckians,” Pugel said.

According to the report released by Disability Determination Services — a state agency that decides if Kentuckians are eligible for certain state and federal benefits — Kentucky’s population grew by 21 percent between 1980 and 2015 while disability rolls grew 249 percent over the same time period.

In 2015, 11.2 percent of Kentuckians received some form of disability payment.

But KCEP points out that over the same period, Kentucky underwent a swell in people who are more likely to collectdisability benefits: older people.

The number of Kentuckians who are between 50 and 64 years old increased 79 percent between 1990 and 2016. And that same group’s share of the total state population has increased as well — from 13.6 percent of Kentuckians in 1990 to 20.2 percent in 2016.

“It’s really just the fact that older people tend to be disabled more often and there are more people in that age category than there have ever been before,” Pugel said.

The state’s report argued that the federal government needs to reform the Social Security Disability Insurance program. Officials proposed tightening the eligibility and re-enrollment process and removing “non-severe conditions” from the list of eligible disabilities.

The report found Kentuckians in the eastern part of the state were the most likely to receive benefits — in 2015, the top counties were Wolfe, Owsley, Breathitt, Clay, Magoffin, Floyd, Lee, Leslie, Martin, Harlan, Perry and Bell.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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