GAO Releases Report on Children’s SSI
By Helly Lee
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a lifeline to many low-income, individuals who have disabilities or are blind, including children. SSI benefits are provided to families with disabled children because parents are often forced to limit work because of their caregiving responsibilities. While such families also incur greater expenses as the result of their children’s disabilities SSI provides a modest benefit—an average monthly payment of $592 for children— and is a much needed support for families already living with limited resources. However, because the number of children receiving SSI benefits has increased in recent years, Congress has expressed fears that the program is being abused.
In response to a Congressional request, on June 26th, after over a year of research, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its report, which revealed the following:
- The number of children applying for and receiving SSI has increased due to numerous factors, including increased child poverty, increased awareness and improved diagnosis of many mental impairments, and increased numbers of children obtaining healthcare coverage.
- However, a majority of children who apply for SSI are denied benefits. GAO found that the stringent criteria for children to qualify for SSI were consistently applied.
- The SSI disability determination process is thorough and examiners rely on an array of sources to assess eligibility for benefits including medical records, school records, and teacher and parent assessments.
- Contrary to claims made in media reports, medications are not the sole source relied upon in determining eligibility for SSI. In fact, children taking medications are less likely to be approved, presumably because their disorders are well controlled by the drugs.
- The share of children who receive SSI for mental impairments has remained stable for over a decade at approximately 65 percent, reflecting that mental impairments are the leading causes of child disability in the U.S.
The report shows the complexity of disability determinations, and stringent criteria that families must meet in order for children to be eligible for SSI. In this report, GAO recommends efforts to strengthen and improve the administration of the program. Doing so would ensure that those who are eligible will receive the resources they need.
It’s important to dispel misconceptions about SSI and other vital benefit programs. Too often, programs helping low-income families are at the top of the list for budget cuts. Claims of fraud and abuse — often based on stereotype or overhyped anecdotal reports, rather than facts— are used to undermine support for these critical programs. These attacks stigmatize struggling workers and families and blame them for seeking help– despite the very hard reality that income inequality is on the rise and more and more families in America are finding it harder to get by.
As part of our ongoing advocacy work, CLASP will continue to support programs like SSI that help vulnerable families and individuals. When public policy works to strengthen families and promote opportunity, instead of tearing down the resources so many families need, the country is stronger and we’re able to advance together.