Program is critical for low-income disabled youth

January 29, 2011

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RE “SOME in Congress look at incentives in disability benefit’’ (Metro, Jan. 18): The Supplemental Security Income program is a critical lifeline for low-income families caring for disabled children. The Globe’s recent series “The other welfare,’’ which criticized the program, didn’t tell the whole story. It is reminiscent of a similar media frenzy in the mid-1990s, which alleged that parents gamed the system to get their children on SSI. Hundreds of thousands of disabled children lost their SSI as a result of changes made to the program in the wake of that craze, despite the fact that many allegations were subsequently disproven.

Let’s consider some facts:

Contrary to what readers of the Globe series may have concluded, the average monthly SSI benefit is significantly less than $700.

Medications are but one factor among many considered as part of an extensive disability evaluation process.

More children today get SSI for so-called invisible disabilities, such as autism and developmental delay, because mental impairments have shed their stigma, and more children are now properly diagnosed and treated for them.

Existing law already requires disability reviews every three years where improvement is likely.

SSI youth who can do some work have incentives to do so, because only half of their earnings count against their grants.

SSI is too important for low-income disabled children to allow readers and policy makers to get the wrong impression of the program. Hopefully, we can all agree that looking out for low-income children with disabilities ought to be foremost among our nation’s priorities.

Jonathan M. Stein
General counsel

Rebecca Vallas
Skadden fellow
Community Legal Services
Stein was a lead counsel in the Supreme Court SSI child disability class action, Sullivan v. Zebley, which led to updated rules that expanded SSI benefits to disabled children, and Vallas represents low-income people with disabilities through the SSI Preservation Project.