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Congress Puts Children’s SSI Under The Microscope


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Congress is turning its attention to soaring growth in the Social Security benefits program for children with disabilities and that has advocates on edge.

Concerns about the children’s Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, program came to light last fall when The Boston Globe published a series of articles suggesting that the benefits are seen as a form of welfare by some poor families. The articles highlighted the great lengths that some parents go — including putting their children on psychiatric medication — in hopes of securing hundreds of dollars in monthly disability benefits.

Now, Congress is looking into the program.

At a hearing Thursday, federal investigators told members of the U.S. House of Representatives that preliminary findings from their inquiry into the program show that the number of children receiving SSI benefits due to mental disabilities like autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is on the rise. At the same time, periodic case reviews to verify continued eligibility for the program are less common.

“Accurately diagnosing some types of mental impairments is a complex and often subjective process for (the Social Security Administration), which can sometimes be vulnerable to fraud and abuse,” Daniel Bertoni, from the Government Accountability Office, said.

The focus on SSI is concerning disability advocates who worry that the possibility of a some taking advantage of the program could jeopardize benefits for families who are truly in need. SSI benefits are designed to aid low-income families who have a child with a physical or mental disability.

“Any attempts to cut SSI for low-income children are unacceptable. We cannot allow children who are clearly in need to suffer,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc in a statement. The organization is working with over 80 national disability groups to support the children’s SSI program.

A full GAO report is expected in April.

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Comments (10 Responses)

  1. adahl says:

    There are many who do need the SSI to cover costs to maintain their child’s disability and needs. But there are some who put their child on medication just to get the extra benefits. It is so degrading to think that a parent will falsely label their child. That child will be affected for years to come. Even schools may not allow the child to reach their full potential because of the parents false claims. It makes you wonder how much in SSI funds have gone to waste?

  2. Psych says:

    Is the rate of increase in the number of children receiving SSI benefits for mental disabilities (e.g., Autism, ADHD) commensurate with the rate of increase in children receiving these diagnoses?

  3. hdemic says:

    My child is severely physically disabled (total wheelchair) and does not get SSI. I am a single parent who had to make myself poor to keep CSHCS in Michigan. Yes I do work. I cut hours so I wouldn’t make to much. Mich choice not mine. You would think they would want me to work so as to pay more tax. I have chosen not to get more involved with the various agencies because of the constant brain bleeds I got from them. SSI was supposed to be for severely disabled folks but since the word “disabled” has become so abused know one is sure what that means anymore. My advice to any parent is that the grass is greener in other places. Strong parent support (not agencies) is a must. Stay from schools and communities that are not proactive. Conservative does not mean stupid. Progress does not mean evil. And if any school in this day and age is not wheelchair accessable thats just plain stupid. So much for SSI. Got to keep that income up for those gov;t folks.
    hdemic mom who was forced to home school in Mich

  4. dlhicks says:

    I agree in part with this study, I know several families myself who do this and don’t need too. But then with me, My son has a variety of medical/mental issues and we REALLY need help (and I only want helping pay what we can’t afford on his medical bills) I want and like to work, but because I work we can’t get any help and it is fincially bankrupting us where if I stayed at home we would be eligible to get some help. They need to offer assistance in sections (to help get people and stay on their feet). My husband and I both work and we try to make it (and yet we see other families with medicare, and some of them paid housing etc…) and their kids only have one minor diagnosis, it is not fair and very frustrating! The whole system needs to be revamped!

  5. Couldridge says:

    As a mom/advocate to a son with moderate autism, IDD and seizures (and a non-SSI recipient), I do think this benefit needs to be reformed. Certainly having an ADD or ADHD diagnosis does not come without unique challenges, but, to me, the likelihood/prognosis for these children is that they will grow up and become functioning/tax paying members of society, i.e. get married, hold jobs, have children, etc. For the more severely disabled, which this benefit was originially created for, the reality is they will need life long supports. My child with autism, does not cost me anymore to feed, clothe or shelter than if he did not have autism. Being given an extra cash benefit should be for those children that perhaps require special diets or equipment, that add to the cost of raising them and place more financial burdens on already low income families. I think many of the programs/benefits for the disabled need to be reformed and with the savings expand the opportunities for the more signinficantly disabled to include, day care/before/after school programs that would allow both parents to work, employment (job coaches, sheltered working,etc.), and other post school options.

  6. drichards1953 says:

    I have seen over and over the gross misuse of SSI for children. Sadly some parents will go to great lengths to “prove” their child has a disability, generally ADHD. More often than no the “diagnosis” come from a family practice physician who is not qualified to make such a formal diagnosis without input from qualified counselors or psychologist who can perform appropriate testing (assessments). I have seen over the years parents “doctor shop” until they get the diagnosis they want. Interestingly, in my experience, it is more often than no the lower income families, but often upper middle class families that pull that stunt. The problem will SSI is that often the ones that are in true need, cannot navigate the system and get lost in the shuffle. I have considerable hope the DSM-5 (V) will provide greater clarity to disorders such as ADD and ADHD, With greater clarity in the diagnosis, which the SSA should embrace, the less likely some of these potential fraud problems will occur.

  7. angus says:

    Social Security should know by incidence rates how many children can be expected to have these conditions. They should also know the rate of increase over time. Do they use these statistics to set goals or project how many children they can expect to apply for SSI? I’d be interested in knowing the percentage of these populations that are being served.

  8. John Kottwitz says:

    Get Real. Fraud on SSI. Is the Agency. Want to make changes find the cause. If Hoslital is responsible for causing problem or parents than figure out who should be paying the bill. What about adults on SSI I don’t want to work but do normal things everyday but don’t have work because doctors say so. This Laziness. I see 5 people a day that on it and there doing jobs under table getting loans for family under name nothing done to them. But sad to say I Have three children on SSI and not proud of it. But When all doctors and genectic doctors scratch there head and say there is no responsible explanation. Just like nature act of God. Some things happen we can’t control. But Accepting what you have. We don’t put our kids off on others they don’t go to special schools for parents don’t want to deal with child. I have two children in wheel chairs. One your great SHRINERS HAS DENIED FOR YEARS BECAUSE SHE TOO SEVERE. Our kids get live there life as normal as possible. But HELP. Yes I get help. I worked everyday never getting a thing. My wife can’t with all doctors to keep kids health in line and school. And were restricted to what we can do. So how is act of god in car and home different than children act of GOD. We got gave a gift but our kids suffer because of greed of others. Get Real.

  9. John Kottwitz says:

    Here for you smart College people. Why increase in children with disability of ADD AND AUTISM. Look at time line. Mothers listen to your computer and laptops and Tv’s. Set your children around them and see how it soothes them. Doctors ingored the obvious. Years when woman pregnant you read or play music to baby while in the womb. Last ten your our Technology replaced that caused a new generation of kids that need sounds of our computers and televisions. Prove me wrong turn all item off in house listen to sounds your electronics make . Then did you have items while pregnant. Don’t take brains takes concern and want to learn.

  10. kathalina says:

    I work as a school nurse and I am disgusted with the number of children that are put on medication or exposed to painful medical prodecures so a parent can collect SSI for them. Parents are literally pimping their own kids for cash. I have witnessed pure fabrication of medical diagnoses so they are approved for disability. I am in amazement that some doctors go along with the parents requests for treatments for nonexisting medical conditions. Everyone worries about their rights, what about these children that are being used by their parents.? Not to mention the damage that is done to a child who is being raised thinking he/she is disabled and has something wrong with him. This is a form of child abuse but knowone is doing anything about it. I have filed 51A’s but my reporting doesnt seem to go any where. A few years ago, we had a 4 yo child die as a result of being overdosed on prescription medication by the parents. The MD who ordered the meds testified that she had never met the child and was going by what the mother reported about the childs behavior The 2 older sibilings had diagnoses also and were on meds and disability. I thought this tradgedy would change things, I guess not.

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