Published in partnership with ShadowProof.
On Monday, the right-wing campaign to destroy the Social Security program took an odd turn when Republican US Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas claimed the use of Social Security disability benefits was tied to drug addiction.
In a speech before the Heritage Foundation, Senator Cotton took the standard conservative critique on the dangers of dependency to the next level by saying that communities facing population decline and drug addiction should blame “corrosive” Social Security disability benefits for their problems.
Cotton claimed that when enough people in a given area get Social Security disability benefits there is a “disability tipping point” and living on disability benefits “becomes an acceptable way of life.” This dynamic, Senator Cotton alleges, leads employers to leave because people are unwilling to work.
Then, according to Senator Cotton, things get even worse:
After a certain point, when disability keeps climbing and become endemic, employers will struggle to find employees or begin or continue to move out of the area. The population continues to fall and a downward spiral kicks in, driving once thriving communities into further decline.
Not only that, but once this spiral begins, communities could begin to suffer other social plagues as well, such as heroin or meth addiction and associated crime.
The problem, of course, is that there is no evidence for any of these claims, and the logic behind them is fallacious.
Saying there is a link between the use of Social Security disability benefits and drug addiction is particularly baseless. Even if you buy the underlying (and dubious) argument that disability benefits cause poverty, Cotton is still wrong. Recent evidence clearly demonstrates that heroin/opioid addiction is rising among all communities, especially in wealthy areas.
The belief that poor communities are the only ones – or even primarily the ones – with drug addiction problems is ignorant to say the least.
But do Social Security disability benefits cause people not to work? That gets the issue exactly backwards. People who are on disability cannot work—that’s why they are on disability in the first place. How are people who cannot work supposed to get a job?
Cotton is essentially claiming people on disability in poorer communities are committing fraud—that they can work and choose not to, which is a rather strong claim to make based on a mere correlation between places with higher than average Social Security disability recipients and population decline.
And it’s a claim—wait for it—also not backed by the evidence. Social Security disability benefits fraud is actually rare. The notion that committing disability benefit fraud has become “an acceptable way of life” throughout the country is totally unsubstantiated.
Senator Cotton’s solution for the problems he alleges exist is to find ways to kick people off Social Security disability benefits. It is not enough to smear the people on disability benefits as thieves and drug addicts. He wants to further impoverish them. Gross.