By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R) from Alabama requested a report from the Congressional Budget Office(CBO) about the growth of the number of Americans receiving disability benefits. The CBO delivered that document to Sen. Sessions today. Sen. Sessions has released the report to the public and has released a written statement on the subject.
Sen. Sessions said, “Today’s report from the Congressional Budget Office reveals a dramatic increase in applications and awards for Social Security disability, placing the disability trust fund on a fast-track to insolvency in just four years. Amazingly, while fewer Americans are working than at the end of 2008, 3.6 million Americans have been awarded SSDI benefits over the same period. The growing number of people on disability and other federal benefits, combined with weak economic growth, raises serious concerns about the sustainability of the American economy.”
Sen. Sessions continued, “It is clear there is a great need to distinguish between proper and improper disability claims, and to better incentivize and find acceptable work for those who are able. Today only 1 percent of Social Security disability recipients ever return to work. The administration of this program must be improved to avoid sinking our country deeper into debt, to ensure the program remains viable for those with disabilities, and to protect Social Security itself.”
Sen. Sessions said that the dramatic rise in the number of Americans getting disability benefits also jeopardizes the long term solvency of Medicare because the disabled automatically become entitled to Medicare benefits for the rest of their lives just two years after being awarded disability benefits.
The number of Americans receiving federal disability benefits has risen to 8.7 million. In 2011 disability benefits amounted to almost 18% of Social Security. Disability benefits cost $128 billion in 2011. The government also spent $80 billion providing Medicare benefits to the disabled.
Sen. Sessions written statement said that the, “CBO finds that in addition to changing labor force dynamics and an aging population, the 1984 federal expansion in eligibility criteria has brought the SSDI program to the brink of insolvency. Since 2009, the SSDI program has been paying out more in annual benefits than it receives in taxes and interest on the trust fund’s assets. Consequently, the trust fund is shrinking and will be depleted by 2016—just four years from now.”
In July last year a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that known overpayments reached $1.4 billion in 2010. The GAO concluded that 75% of known overpayments were made to beneficiaries who had returned to work and weren’t eligible to continue receiving benefits. SSDI beneficiaries are supposed to notify the Social Security Administration when they return to work, but the GAO concluded that this rarely ever happens. Receiving disability benefits that you are not entitled to is fraud.
The Social Security Administration commissioned an independent review of the federal disability system in December. The study is focused on why people that truly deserve disability benefits are denied by the program while people who do not deserve benefits seem to get them. The first draft of the report is expected in August.
Sen. Jeff Sessions is the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee
Opinion | Science is hard for Alabama, Del Marsh
On a good day in Alabama, science is not our friend. On bad days, during complicated, scary times, when science and medicine are confusing and offering hard solutions to tough problems, watching our people try to science is like watching a monkey fold a fitted sheet.
Such has been the case in the days of COVID-19, when this state’s conservative leadership has been bamboozled by the great invisible enemy and left choosing between letting thousands die or potentially losing money and jobs.
Which is really no choice at all for them, even though they did pretend for a week.
In reality, the actual choice for Alabama leadership has been what it always is: A choice between Option 1, which is supported by facts and science and experts and data, and Option 2: What they really want to believe, regardless of facts and data and science and experts.
You can probably guess which way the majority has gone.
We were one of the first states to “reopen” our economy, and despite skyrocketing new cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Kay Ivey has refused to reassert any restrictions that were lifted. Bars are still open. Restaurants are serving dine-in customers.
It’s like life is going on just fine. Even though more than 1,000 people have died in less than five months, and hundreds more are packed into Alabama hospitals with a life-threatening virus.
Still, our politicians are clinging to the dumbest of beliefs and are actively pushing debunked theories that they really want to believe despite no evidence or even evidence to the contrary.
Like Senate President Del Marsh, who, when asked Thursday about Alabama’s trend of record-breaking numbers of new cases, said he hopes more people get coronavirus because “we start reaching an immunity the more people who have it and get through it.”
— Reshad Hudson (@ReshadHudson) July 9, 2020
Now, as much as it warms my heart to hear an Alabama conservative embrace evolution, Marsh is, in fact, wrong. Not only is there little evidence pointing to effective “herd immunity,” but there is evidence indicating that the theory is completely incorrect.
Sweden, which was the most often cited example by your idiot friends on Facebook, tried the whole “herd immunity” approach. It shut down nothing. Let people have their freedoms. Didn’t impose any requirements for masks. It was hailed as a beacon of light by the far-right nuts.
Fox News isn’t airing those puff pieces anymore.
Sweden has turned into the world’s cautionary tale. Deaths in the country are 40 percent higher than in the US. They’re significantly higher than in neighboring countries. And Sweden’s economy has been hammered, just like everyone else’s economy.
So, if you’re scoring at home, Sweden got all the economic catastrophe plus an off-the-charts death rate.
Which is what Del Marsh apparently wants for Alabama. Or maybe he doesn’t know what he wants, because shortly after saying that he hopes a bunch more people get coronavirus, he also said that he doesn’t want anymore deaths. Which is a lot like saying you want a bunch more ice cream but no more calories.
Of course, the real problem in all of this is that we’ve handled this crisis — both here in Alabama and at the federal level — in the same manner in which Republicans handle everything: As if there are only two, stark options and no middle ground.
Because there’s simply no way we could both open businesses and impose meaningful limitations that scientists and doctors tell us help stop the spread of the virus. There’s no way we could allow some businesses to open while keeping other shuttered (and providing those closed businesses with needed money for survival). There’s no way we could have opened up things like beaches and parks — things that science and doctors tell us are unlikely to contribute to spread — while simultaneously preventing dine-in eating at beach restaurants or shutting down entertainment businesses, like nightclubs and bars.
No, much easier to tell everyone to get the virus and hope for the best.
What Marsh said Thursday is dangerous and dumb. He should be condemned for it. And when this is all over, and we’re counting our dead, his words, and the failed GOP leadership through this crisis should be remembered.
Because they contributed to this catastrophe.
Commissioner praises prison employees for putting lives on the line during pandemic
Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday praised the department’s employees for “literally putting their lives on the line” coming into work during the COVID-19 crisis. Dunn was speaking to the Alabama State Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, which is holding budget hearings in Montgomery.
“I cannot praise them enough,” Dunn said. “They are going into the facility knowing that it (the coronavirus) is there. Not just our corrections officers but also our healthcare workers.”
“Many of our workers are single moms,” Dunn said. “We have several families where both the husband and wife work for the department and they have children and they are coming to work each day.”
“188 of our staff have self-reported” being coronavirus positive, Dunn said. “109 of them have already been able to return to work. That is a tribute to the dedication of our staff. Unfortunately, we have had two employee deaths.”
“We are working on an expanded testing protocol, so we can eventually test the entire inmate population and can offer testing to our staff,” Dunn said. Employees also have the option of going to their doctor for testing.
“To this point we have tested 523 inmates, 2 percent of our population, and that number will continue to expand,” Dunn assured legislators.
Dunn said COVID-19 has negatively impacted ADOC’s efforts to hire more corrections officers. They have had to cancel job fairs and some new officer trainings due to the coronavirus shutdown. Dunn assured the senators that there has been progress in addressing the staffing issues that have been cited in a lawsuit in federal court.
Dunn said that to this point in 2020, ADOC has had a net increase of 150 corrections officers. The Department has made 455 new hires, but has lost 305 due to attrition for a net gain of 150.
Dunn showed a graph to the state Senators showing that the number of corrections officers working at ADOC peaked at around 2,000 in 2011. Since then the number of officers has declined precipitously dropping to as low as 1100, before beginning to rise in the last year.
“Our hiring efforts have been slowed down by COVID-19,” Dunn explained
Dunn said that they are talking with many candidates who are interested once their unemployment runs out. “We have a whole pool of folks who are waiting and seeing.”
“We always understood that this was going to be a process,” Dunn told Senators.
“Our personnel budget next year is $300 million,” Dunn said. “We have reduced our overtime over $300,000 this year. We have a much tighter management control over that. Part of that reduction is due to the increase in staffing.
Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, told Dunn, “The over is a very sensitive matter.”
Dunn said that any savings from reducing overtime is being used to pay for the new hires.
Dunn said that the prisons are currently operating at 155 percent capacity. Dunn predicted that once the state builds the three new mega-prisons currently in the bid process that ADOC will be operating at 120 to 125 percent capacity. Dunn said that the state has determined from the California case that 137 percent capacity is right at about the line where the federal courts would intervene. ADOC has set the capacity goal at 120 to 125 percent to have a buffer percentage.
ADOC is funded in the State General Fund (SGF) budget. Alabama has an arcane budgeting system where over 90 percent of state funds are earmarked and there are two separate budgets: the SGF and the state education trust fund budget (ETF). Alabama historically has underfunded its prisons and has long neglected its aging prison infrastructure.
COVID-19 remains a very serious problem in Alabama. 2,064 Alabamians were reported positive on Thursday and another ten died, taking Alabama’s death toll to 1,042.
Former UA president Judy Bonner endorses Jeff Sessions
Former University of Alabama President Judy Bonner has penned a letter endorsing Jeff Sessions in the race for U.S. Senate.
“During his 20 years in the Senate, Jeff worked side-by-side with our senior senator, Richard Shelby, always fighting for Alabama values and looking after Alabamians. I’m sure Senator Shelby would agree that no finer person has ever served in the U.S. Senate than Jeff Sessions. Jeff is a man with the highest degree of integrity, character and honesty. Together, they made an impressive team for our state and can do so again,” Bonner said.
“When Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina hit Alabama in 2004 and 2005, Jeff and his wife, Mary, were literally passing water bottles out in Bayou La Batre and helping provide food and shelter to those affected throughout South Alabama. And when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in 2010, Senator Sessions, Senator Shelby and my brother, Jo, were keeping the pressure on Ken Feinberg and BP to make sure our state was compensated,” Bonner said.
“While in the Senate, Jeff visited every county – all 67 – at least once a year. Like Senator Shelby, he knows Alabama like the back of his hand. And when our people have needed their senator to help them cut through the bureaucracy at the VA, Social Security or one of the many other federal agencies, Senator Sessions and his team were always there for us. He knows how to represent Alabama in Washington – and serve all of us – because he has been a servant leader his entire life,” Bonner wrote.
Bonner pointed to Sessions’s ability to deliver results for Alabama immediately.
“Another important point to consider is there will come a day when Senator Shelby decides to retire. Do we want our next senior senator to have more than 20-years-experience and seniority or do we want someone who is still learning his way around the Capitol?” Bonner asked.
Bonner concluded her letter with this note about Jeff Sessions:
“He is Alabama through and through. I hope you will consider giving him your support and trust as well. He has never let Alabama down and he never will.”
Rogers leads Homeland Security Committee Republicans
Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, on Thursday delivered an opening statement highly critical of the Chinese government at a Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington entitled “Examining the National Response to the Worsening Coronavirus Pandemic.”
“I appreciate you granting my request to allow Members to use the hearing room today,” Rogers said. “We should be conducting our important oversight and legislative business here in Washington. We are much more productive when Members are here, in person, doing our work together. We’ve already proven we can do it safely. I hope we will return to regular order as soon as possible.”
“As you know, I strongly disagree with the Speaker’s unilateral decision to shut down the House of Representatives,” Rogers explained. “We should be conducting our important oversight and legislative business here in Washington. We are much more productive when Members are here, in person, doing our work together. We’ve already proven we can do it safely. I hope we will return to regular order as soon as possible.”
“As I said before, our hearts go out to those who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19 and those who are currently undergoing treatment,” Rogers continued. “COVID-19 is an unprecedented global pandemic that requires an unprecedented response.”
Rogers was highly critical of the Chinese government and their role in the global pandemic.
“Unfortunately, we lost precious time early in the response when China hid the disease from the world,” Rogers said. “For weeks the Chinese Communist Party refused entry to outside medical experts. The Chinese suppressed journalists from reporting. Worst of all, China deliberately withheld evidence of the virus’ structure and deadly spread. During this, the Chinese hoarded life-saving medical supplies and encouraged foreign travel, seeding the virus across the globe. I want to commend Ranking Member McCaul’s work on the Foreign Affairs Committee to extensively document this deadly cover-up in a recent report.”
“It’s clear that China has pulled out all the stops to manipulate everyone from media outlets to the World Health Organization,” Rogers continued. “The WHO maintained for months that China had promptly self-reported COVID-19. They did not. And after months of lying the WHO has come clean. The WHO now says it found out about COVID from media reports and whistleblowers from China. The Chinese Communist Party once again has been caught with blood on its hands.”
“Facing an extraordinary public health crisis and China’s deadly coverup, the Trump Administration has responded with a whole of government response,” Rogers stated. ”To date, the Administration has – Prohibited the entry of travelers from global hot spots; Invoked the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of critically needed medical equipment, such as ventilators; Coordinated the delivery of over 167 million respirators, 682 million surgical masks, and 17 billion gloves; Sent over $125 billion to the states to support the medical response to COVID-19; Distributed over $500 billion in PPP loans to small business; and Helped facilitate the testing of over 36 million tests. In fact, we are now capable of conducting over 700,000 tests per day. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the number of positive tests are rising in many areas. That’s why it’s so important for all Americans to continue to heed the advice of our federal, state, and local public health officials.”
“I am pleased to see a couple of public health and emergency response officials on the panel today,” Rogers said. “Colonel Hastings currently serves as the Director of Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency. He had a very distinguished 30 year career in the Air Force. For the last 3 years, he has done a tremendous job leading EMA’s response to several natural disasters and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Colonel, thank you for joining us today. I appreciate all the witnesses for appearing. I look forward to hearing how you all are using the emergency funding and resources provided by Congress and the Administration to respond to this crisis.”
“I am also interested in knowing what more Congress can do to help you effectively respond,” Rogers said. “Our country has faced outbreaks of serious disease in the past. In each case, we’ve marshalled our collective resources and ingenuity to overcome the crisis. I’m confident that will be the case with COVID-19.
Rogers is the ranking member of the House Homeland Committee.
More than three million Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including more than 48,000 Alabamians. The novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, shows no sign of slowing anytime soon as 61,864 Americans were diagnosed just on Wednesday. The virus was first identified late in 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China late in 2019. The first positive test for the virus in Alabama was in mid-March.
Rogers represents Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District.