A key senator has asked the Social Security Administration to investigate how people who live their lives role-playing as “adult babies” are able to get taxpayer-funded disability payments — after one of them was featured on a recent reality TV episode wearing diapers, feeding from a bottle and using an adult-sized crib he built.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and the Senate’s top waste-watcher, asked the agency’s inspector general to look into 30-year-old Stanley Thornton Jr. and his roommate, Sandra Dias, who acts as his “mother,” saying it’s not clear why they are collecting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits instead of working.
“Given that Mr. Thornton is able to determine what is appropriate attire and actions in public, drive himself to complete errands, design and custom-make baby furniture to support a 350-pound adult and run an Internet support group, it is possible that he has been improperly collecting disability benefits for a period of time,” Mr. Coburn wrote in a letter Monday to Inspector General Patrick P. O’Carroll Jr.
The request comes at a time when members of Congress are struggling to cut budgets and weed out waste to try to bring down the staggering deficit, and comes just days after Social Security’s trustees released a grim assessment of the program’s long-term financial health.
SSI is run by Social Security and pays out benefits to aged, blind and disabled people who have little or no income.
The inspector general’s office didn’t return a message seeking comment.
In an email response to The Washington Times, Mr. Thornton threatened to kill himself if his Social Security payments are taken away, and said the television episode showing him doing woodwork oversold his abilities.
“You wanna test how damn serious I am about leaving this world, screw with my check that pays for this apartment and food. Try it. See how serious I am. I don’t care,” the California man said. “I have no problem killing myself. Take away the last thing keeping me here, and see what happens. Next time you see me on the news, it will be me in a body bag.”
Mr. Thornton was featured in early May on National Geographic Channel’s “Taboo” program along with Miss Dias, a former nurse who feeds him a bottle and otherwise attends to his needs when he is dressed in diapers.
In the episode, he shows off the adult-sized crib he built and sleeps in, and the cameras follow him to the hardware store where he buys wood for his latest do-it-yourself project — an elevated high chair that is capable of holding his ample frame.
He said he has been living at least a partial adult baby lifestyle since his teenage years, though he does wear adult clothes when he goes out, fearing embarrassment otherwise.
Mr. Coburn said Mr. Thornton “is cognizant that his choice to live as an adult baby violates social norms,” though, and through both his projects and the adult baby support website he runs, www.bedwettingabdl.com, he appears to have the skills to hold down a job. That, the lawmaker said, should make him ineligible for disability payments.
Mr. Coburn also questions why Miss Dias, as a former nurse, collects SSI benefits, “since she is able to provide childcare” to Mr. Thornton.
In an extensive biography on his web page, Mr. Thornton says he worked as a security guard for a year and a half but said trauma stemming from childhood abuse, combined with other mental problems, made it impossible for him to hold the job, and he has been receiving SSI payments for most of the last 10 years.
In his email to The Times, Mr. Thornton said he is not capable of working. He said running the website only takes four hours a month, and he said his craftsman skills were overstated by the program, which showed him working on his adult-sized high chair.
“What you saw on camera being drilled was pre-assembled the day before. All I did was drill six holes for the camera,” he said.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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