Today, the House Ways and Means subcommittee held a hearing about Supplemental Security Income Benefits for children with disabilities, to consider the program’s future. Currently SSI provides monthly cash assistance to those who are disabled, blind or elderly and who have little income and few assets; the program provides cash for such basic needs as food, clothing and shelter. In September of 2011, 8 million people collected SSI benefits, including 1.3 million children under 18.
That lawmakers should be considering not to continue such benefits is a sad sign of where our country is now. Kathy Ruffing, a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, explains some things lawmakers, and the general public, should know about the very real benefits of SSI for children with disabilities.
- While the number of children receiving SSI benefits has grown since the mid-1990s, it is not exactly growing by leaps and bounds. About 1.6 percent of all US children collect SSI. Reasons for the growth include the rising rate of child poverty as well as in advances in the early diagnosis of medical and psychiatric conditions (autism, bipolar disorder).
- To qualify for SSI benefits, families must provide evidence from qualified medical professionals (physicians, licensed or certified psychologists, and certain other experts such as speech pathologists). A child’s impairments must be the same, or equal in severity, to disabling conditions compiled by the Social Security Administration (SSA) — and only about 40 percent of applications receive approval.
- Children in the program have their cases reviewed at least every three years to determine if they are still eligible. Benefits are terminated in about 20 percent of cases and about half for low-birthweight babies. Children over 18 are considered under a special review that ends benefits for one-third of children.
- The SSI payment also helps to life most recipients out of poverty. Without the SSI payment (average benefit: $588/month; maximum benefit: $674/month), most families are below the poverty line.
Like most parents of children with disabilities, I know there is always something more that’s needed, be it funds for sitters or therapists or for purchasing some equipment or medication. We are fortunate to have insurance but the doctors and specialists (in particular, the pediatric neurologist and the dentist) we take our 14-year-old son Charlie who’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum to are not covered under our health plan. It’s worth it to pay out of pocket as Charlie’s behavior issues and his functioning at school are closely tied to his health. Of course that’s true for people children generally but Charlie’s very limited speech means he can’t tell us if he has a toothache or some such, hence being pro-active (i.e., having regular dental checkups) is crucial.
The benefits from SSI are modest but still go a long way towards making a crucial difference in someone family’s, in some child’s, life and all the more so for a child with disabilities. Why take away more from those who already have many and complex needs?
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