InexcusableI find it inexcusable that your March 11...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

March 28, 1994

Inexcusable

I find it inexcusable that your March 11 front-page story, "Extra funds for disability used for raises," left readers with the mistaken impression that the Social Security Administration voluntarily chose to fund employee pay raises with money provided by Congress.

SSA did not voluntarily choose to redirect funds from the required disability reviews to fund employee pay raises. In fact, it was the Congress that mandated the employee pay raises -- costing $67 million this year -- and then provided no funds to pay for them.

Since all of SSA's increases in discretionary funds were devoted toward the agency's number one priority, improving the disability program, Congress was well aware that the money to fund the pay raises would have to come those funds SSA had planned to use to process disability cases.

There was one other option which was available to SSA -- one we found totally unacceptable -- laying off SSA employees. How ironic it would have been to lay off the very same workers that SSA must count on to handle the growing disability workloads.

Over the past four years, SSA has experienced an unprecedented increase -- more than 40 percent -- in applications for disability benefits.

As applications escalated, and the backlog of initial claims grew, SSA had to make difficult decisions about the best use of scarce administrative resources.

Since Social Security benefits are often the only means of support for disabled workers and their families, SSA chose to give the highest priority to processing initial claims for disability instead of reviewing the continuing eligibility of individuals already receiving disability payments.

That is not to say that we find this situation acceptable. On the contrary, we agree that more action needs to be taken to address the growing backlog of disability reviews.

That is why SSA instituted a new disability review process in 1993 that is already yielding positive results and represents a major step forward in ensuring that people who are no longer disabled will not remain on the rolls.

Lawrence H. Thompson

Baltimore

;/ The writer is a deputy commissioner of SSA.

Assisted Suicide

A poll (reported in The Sun, Feb. 21) has been described several times as indicating "three-to-one approval of physician-assisted suicide in Maryland." That is misleading. As the primary sponsor of the poll, I want to make clear what the poll actually showed.

It actually showed that most of the people of Maryland favor physician-assisted suicide (in preference to criminalizing all assisting of suicide) under some circumstances.

The key question spells out those circumstances. There are three of them: a patient "suffering from painful or very distressing physical conditions," with "little or no chance of recovery," and "a persistent request" by the patient for aid in dying.

It should not be surprising that under these fairly extreme circumstances 69 percent of the 500 persons polled approved of their doctors' being permitted to aid them in dying with dignity. (Only 23 percent favored the alternative, and 8 percent had no opinion.)

The word "permit" in the poll is also important. What most of the respondents approved was not that physicians should be encouraged to aid a patient in dying, even when the three specified circumstances all exist.

It was only that they be "permitted" to provide such help if in addition, using their own best judgment in an individual case, they "believe it is fully justified." This would not constrain physicians in any way. It would free them from the shackles of the law and the courts in one important area.

What voters preferred was therefore a decidedly limited form of physician-assisted suicide. That is a sane, moderate, middle-of-the-road position.

If the legislature, after fully adequate study, were to embody it in law, it would probably have majority support among the voters.

Ralph White

Cockeysville

The writer is a retired professor of psychology at George Washington University and a founder of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

Going Electronic

The March 8 Associated Press article, "Welfare reform replaces food stamps with cash," that ran on the front page of The Sun included statements from me about the advantages of giving eligible families cash instead of food stamps.

While serving as commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources and in a number of administrative positions with the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- most recently as deputy administrator of the Food Stamp Program -- I learned that although cash in lieu of food stamps has some advantages, there is a risk that food aid could be diverted to non-food needs.

A point I tried but unfortunately failed to make to the reporter is that food stamps and checks will become obsolete methods of issuing welfare benefits in the future. With the active support of the USDA, more than half of all states are planning to switch to the method currently being pioneered by Maryland -- electronic benefit transfer (EBT).

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