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House Votes to Limit Addicts’ Social Security Pay : Disability: Funds for drug abusers and alcoholics would be cut off after 3 years. Treatment would be required. Senate has passed a similar bill.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The House voted unanimously Tuesday to impose a three-year limit on Social Security disability benefits for drug addicts and alcoholics, many of whom are believed to use their federal payments to feed their habits.

Like similar legislation approved by the Senate two months ago, the House crackdown would require drug addicts and alcoholics to receive treatment if they are to qualify for payments under the Social Security disability insurance program or disability payments under the Supplemental Security Income program.

In any case, the payments would stop after three years if substance abuse was the basis of a disability claim.

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The government now pays $1.4 billion a year to 250,000 persons who receive disability payments because of substance abuse. Congressional critics have said that the safeguards are inadequate either to guarantee rehabilitation treatment or prevent fraud.

One tavern-owner in Denver, for example, received $160,000 as “custodian” for alcoholic customers on the benefit rolls. In Bakersfield, Calif., a drug addict receiving disability payments died of a lethal overdose purchased with thousands of dollars in retroactive benefits.

The cut-off provision is part of a bill making the Social Security Administration an independent federal agency, breaking it away from the Department of Health and Human Services. The measure, approved 413 to 0, now goes to a House-Senate conference committee so that differences in the two houses’ measures can be worked out.

“This should have been fixed a long time ago,” said Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) during House debate.

The General Accounting Office reported last year that the number of substance abusers receiving SSI benefits had tripled from 1990 to mid-1993 and those receiving disability insurance payments had climbed by 35% over the same period.

“Clearly, the system is not working,” added Rep. Gerald D. Kleczka (D-Wis.). He said that just 1% to 2% of beneficiaries “leave the disability rolls after rehabilitation treatment--they usually die first.”

In an attempt to prevent disability checks from being sent to drug dealers, bartenders or other inappropriate custodians designated by beneficiaries, the bill would require that payments go either to family members or friends or, preferably, to government institutions or private agencies that would manage the money for the beneficiaries. Large lump-sum payments, usually made retroactively, also would be barred under the House bill. Past-due benefits instead would be paid gradually over a period of months.

The House legislation would require the Social Security Administration to set up agencies in all 50 states to find treatment programs for drug addicts and alcoholics, monitor their attendance and conduct periodic drug tests to see if they are recovering.

People with substance abuse problems who are receiving disability insurance benefits would be required for the first time to participate in treatment, if available, to retain their payments. Those who get SSI benefits already are required to take treatment but the bill would establish stricter penalties for those who fail to do so.


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