House Republican Group Targets Benefits for Severely Disabled

Seems that SSI (Supplemental Security Income) has become the latest candidate for block granting — and safety net slashing.

Under the latest House Republican Study Committee plan, SSI funding would be capped at about 31% less than last year’s spending level and “returned” to the states.

They’d have to use their own revenue if they wanted to sustain the relatively small cash benefits SSI provides. Or they could manage with what they’d get by cutting those benefits and/or tightening the already tight eligibility standards.

We need only look at the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to know which choice they’d make.

The RSC trots out the usual rhetoric about inordinate caseload growth — in this case, especially the part of the caseload consisting of children with mental, behavioral and/or learning disorders.

Cites discredited allegations by the Boston Globe, which took out after SSI for children two years ago in a series tellingly entitled “the other welfare.”

Ah yes, another instance of fostering dependency. More low-income parents gaming the system. Etc.

What seems to have gotten the Globe going — and subsequently the RSC — is the high percent of children on SSI who have mental, rather than physical disabilities.

There’s nothing new about this, as the Bazelon Center for Mental Health reports. The percent has been about the same for more than 10 years.

What has changed is how the disabilities are classified. There are indeed higher percentages of children who receive SSI benefits due to conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and language-related developmental delays.

At the same time, a much smaller percentage of children in the program are classified as intellectually disabled — or, in earlier days, mentally retarded.

This apparent shift in the caseload obviously reflects progress in medical research and clinical practice.

Children who were once all lumped together — and viewed as minimally trainable, but not treatable — are now diagnosed differentially. Related advances have produced an array of treatment options that can be individually tailored.

It’s important to note, however, that far from all children with mental disabilities can qualify for SSI benefits.

Only those who meet a stringent test for severe disability can — and then only if their family income and other countable resources, e.g., money in the bank, both fall below set maximums.

If House Republicans want a real explanation for the reason more children now receive SSI, they should look to the large increase in the number of children whose families are poor enough to fall below the official poverty threshold.

As I’ve said before, SSI benefits can partially offset the extra costs parents incur when they’re raising a disabled child. But the estimated average costs exceed even the maximum SSI benefit.

Not surprisingly then, 62% of families with one child who receives SSI benefits experience at least one material hardship, e.g., severe food insecurity, inability to pay rent and/or utility bills.

The hardship rate rises to 74% for families with two or more children in SSI.

SSI reflects a major positive shift in our society’s approach to severely disabled people, including children.

Many used to be shunted off the institutions, which was not only harmful for them, but costly for state governments, as a new brief for the Center for American Progress notes.

Then states began shifting from institutionalization to family-centered and community-based care — some considerably faster than others.

SSI replaced an uneven patchwork of benefits administered by states and partly funded by them to support this shift. Rather like the welfare “reform” that gave us TANF in reverse.

The support clearly isn’t strong enough — at least for many families with severely disabled children to care for.

It’s still the case, however, that the likelihood of a family’s income falling below the federal poverty line drops by nearly 11% once their child is enrolled in SSI.

You’d think the family values folks would cotton to a program that helps parents care for their children — and empowers them to decide how best to do that.

But the prospect of more radical cost-cutting — except, of course, for defense — apparently trumps everything else.

One Response to House Republican Group Targets Benefits for Severely Disabled

  1. [...] written before about the recurrent attacks on SSI for children. Since then, New York Times columnist [...]

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