Oregon families receiving Supplemental Security Income benefits to help pay for the cost of caring for children with disabilities could face more scrutiny and possibly even lose those vital, yet hardly substantial SSI benefits based on findings contained in a new draft report authored by the Government Accountability Office.
As you may or may not know, SSI benefit payments for disabled children average about $600 a month nationwide. To qualify, the Social Security Administration must determine that a child has a severe impairment or disability, and that the family’s income falls below the poverty line. The SSA is also typically required to review the cases of children approved for SSI benefits every one to three years.
GAO investigators are now saying that those required reviews haven’t been happening as often as they should and estimate that the SSA could save $9 for every $1 spent on correcting this deficiency.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by reporters from The Boston Globe, also levels several other criticisms of the SSI program, many of which are focused on the agency’s disability determinations of children with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and speech problems. Investigators say that the SSA uses highly subjective factors to evaluate children with these types of impairments and has often relied on incomplete data when awarding SSI benefits in those cases.
While a final draft has not been issued by the GAO yet, this news is certain to bolster critics of the SSI program who have been calling it “an alternative welfare system” for years and may lead Congress to enact substantial reforms. In fact, SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue has already publicly stated his belief that the SSI program needs reform, and President Obama has requested $5 million to study the problem in next year’s budget.
Ideally, the President’s budget request will be approved and the study will confirm that the SSI program is largely well-run and not in need of substantial reform. If critics get their way, however, many of Oregon’s most vulnerable families will be cut off from this vital source of support.
Source: The Boston Globe, “Children’s disability program lags on reviews, report says,” Patricia Wen, May 24, 2012