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.