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Iowa Watchdog

Iowa disability claim costs nearly double within nine years


DES MOINES – The number of Iowa workers on disability has only slightly increased during the past nine years, while the federal government’s monthly payments to the state has nearly doubled, according to figures from the Social Security Administration.

Claims in the Hawkeye State grew 8 percent from 2003 to 2011, reaching 592,000 two years ago. That means roughly one in five Iowans are on disability, according to U.S. Census Bureau population figures. The monthly payments doled out to recipients has grown from $208.5 million to $463.3 million during the same span.

Iowans collecting on disability claims slightly increases while expenses nearly doubled in the past nine years.

Iowans collecting on disability claims slightly increases while expenses nearly doubled in the past nine years.

Calls and emails by Iowa Watchdog to the Social Security Administration’s regional communications office were not immediately returned.

Federal officials attribute part of the increase to cost of living increases and how the government pays out benefits. Currently, recipients receive payments based on how much they earned while working, according to the Social Security Administration.

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Iowa stands out for its sluggish growth in claims.

During the same nine years, states across the country have seen an explosion in disability claims, as the list of qualifying disabilities has expanded and baby boomers reach retirement age. Nationally, there has been an 18 percent increase in recipients, with payments going to more than 55.4 million people. The feds paid out more than $62.2 billion in 2011, a 57 percent increase.

States have seen similar, if not larger, increases. Nevada, for example, added nearly 23,000 people to its disability rolls, a 58.7 percent increase from 2003 to 2011.

The reason behind the growth in claims depends on who’s talking. Some researchers attribute it to the growth in retired workers, while others say it’s due to increases in mental health disorders and back problems.

Check back later for more information.

Contact Sheena Dooley at Sheena Dooley is the Iowa bureau chief for, where this story first appeared.

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