SSI Supports Families Raising Children with Disabilities
By Helly Lee
In a recent column in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff recommended cutting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs and diverting resources to early education initiatives to help children living in poverty. This column set off a series of public response from advocates across the country who work on poverty and SSI issues, three of which were published by the New York Times.
Kristof is right that poverty in America remains largely an invisible issue. And, yes, there is a need for additional resources to be allocated toward child care and early education initiatives, but this should not be funded by cutting a vital program that provides desperately needed income support to low-income Americans who are elderly or have significant disabilities, including 1.3 million children.
As noted in a recently released report by SSI advocates, Shawn Fremstad and Rebecca Vallas, this program is highly effective in helping low-income families with children with disabilities. Fremstad and Vallas highlight that SSI assists families in caring for children with disabilities in their home instead of putting them into costly institutions for care, and also enhances the child’s opportunity to achieve an independent life. New initiatives in the SSI program such as the Youth in Transition Demonstration (YTD) and the Promoting Readiness of Minors in SSI (PROMISE) demonstration and others are exploring how SSA and other agencies can support youth receiving SSI and prepare them for their transition into adulthood. The financial support provided by SSI helps to defray the additional costs of raising a child with disabilities, as well as meet children’s basic needs for food, clothing and shelter. In addition, SSI compensates for lost wages when parents have to cut back on work hours or leave the workforce altogether to care for a child with disabilities. Fremstad and Vallas reiterate that families caring for children with disabilities incur additional costs and burdens compared to other families. An earlier report on theEconomic Costs of Childhood Disability reveals that reduced earnings for a caretaking parent and direct expenses for health care and other disability related expenses average about $6,150 a year in 2011 dollars. A family already living with a limited income trying to raise a child with disabilities cannot afford to see cuts to the minimal support they receive through SSI.
In his column, Kristoff reports second-hand anecdotes to suggest that children are receiving SSI payments who are not truly disabled. In fact, as Fremstad and Vallas report, applicants for SSI must meet strict means testing and disability standards in order to be eligible for SSI, and fewer than 1 in 4 children with disabilities received SSI in August 2012. In addition, continuing disability reviews (CDRs) are conducted regularly to ensure that children who are allowed benefits continue to meet strict disability standards. Such misleading stories are particularly dangerous at a time when federal policy makers are desperately searching for places to make budget cuts. SSI provides a needed resource for millions of families across the nation who are raising children with disabilities, and allows parents to give these children the supports they need to succeed. While advocates and policymakers agree that the program could be improved, cutting SSI would both abandon some of our most vulnerable families, and cost us more in the long run.
Let’s protect SSI for families raising children with disabilities – and find other ways to invest in critical early learning programs for children living in poverty.