Media Matters Attacks NPR for Exposing Entitlement Abuse

Media Matters is scrambling to discredit a much-discussed report on America’s disability program by journalist Chana Joffe-Walt that was featured on Chicago’s Public Radio This American Life and National Public Radio’s (NPR) All Things Considered

Media Matters researcher Hannah Groch-Begley attacked NPR by breathlessly warning that a “misleading NPR report has become fodder for a right-wing media campaign to scapegoat federal disability benefits, despite the fact that the rise in disability claims can be attributed to the economic recession and demographic shifts.”

Joffe-Walt’s six-month investigation into America’s disability program found a record-high 14 million Americans receiving disability checks in a system rife with fraud and dependency-inducing abuse that costs taxpayers $260 billion a year—more than food stamps and welfare combined.

Media Matters did not dispute the costs of the America’s disability program nor the number of beneficiaries cited in the NPR report. Rather, the progressive group blamed the moribund Obama economy and increased opportunities for women in the workplace as the drivers of the explosive growth in disability claims:

The recent financial crisis and the rising rate of child poverty have made more children eligible to receive benefits through the Supplemental Security program, while the growth in the number of adults receiving benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance since the 1970s is largely explained by increases in the number of women qualifying for benefits.

Far be it from us to stop Media Matters from attacking President Barack Obama’s abysmal economy or a left-leaning media outlet like NPR. But if Media Matters is angry with NPR for highlighting the fact that abuse in the disability program has, in part, fueled its growth, the Soros-backed group might well want to declare outright war on another progressive media institution, the New York Times, for reporting the same.

In December, progressive New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reported on the “soul-crushing dependency” inflicted by America’s Supplemental Security Income program. Kristof wrote that numerous poor parents in Appalachian hill country were pulling their children out of literacy classes to bag a $689 monthly Supplemental Security Income (S.S.I.) check per child.  As Kristof explained:

About four decades ago, most of the children S.S.I. covered had severe physical handicaps or mental retardation that made it difficult for parents to hold jobs — about 1 percent of all poor children. But now 55 percent of the disabilities it covers are fuzzier intellectual disabilities short of mental retardation, where the diagnosis is less clear-cut. More than 1.2 million children across America — a full 8 percent of all low-income children — are now enrolled in S.S.I. as disabled, at an annual cost of more than $9 billion.

That is a burden on taxpayers, of course, but it can be even worse for children whose families have a huge stake in their failing in school. Those kids may never recover: a 2009 study found that nearly two-thirds of these children make the transition at age 18 into S.S.I. for the adult disabled. They may never hold a job in their entire lives and are condemned to a life of poverty on the dole — and that’s the outcome of a program intended to fight poverty.

“The kids get taken out of the program because the parents are going to lose the check,” said Billie Oaks, who runs a literacy program here in Breathitt County, a poor part of Kentucky. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Cornell University Economics Professor Richard V. Burkhauser said parents are inducing illiteracy to keep the government checks rolling in. “One of the ways you get on this program is having problems in school. If you do better in school, you threaten the income of the parents. It’s a terrible incentive,” said Burkhauser. 

Such government dependency, says local school district official Melanie Stevens, traps poor children and families in a cycle of taxpayer-funded dependency that replaces dreams with welfare checks: “The greatest challenge we face as educators is how to break that dependency on government. In second grade, they have a dream. In seventh grade, they have a plan.”

As the New York Times’ Kristof concluded, “This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.”

When even two progressive media outlets like NPR and the New York Times concede that America’s disability program is riddled with fraud and abuse that hurts children and families, you know the problem is real and pressing.

Instead of attacking its progressive allies, Media Matters should be applauding NPR and the New York Times for reporting the truth—a truth that conservatives have been highlighting for decades.  


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