SSI Supports Families Raising Children with Disabilities

Dec 18, 2012


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 the Economic 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.



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