Despite Growth, SSI May Be Under-Serving Kids
The number of children receiving disability benefits from the federal government is on the rise and for good reason, a national panel of experts suggests.
Supplemental Security Income added more than 328,000 children with disabilities to its rolls between 2004 and 2013. The increase is largely in line with population and economic trends, according to a report out this month from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Institute of Medicine.
The children’s SSI program has come under fire in recent years, with reports that some low-income Americans use the program as a second form of welfare. However, the 378-page program review commissioned by the Social Security Administration suggests that, if anything, too few children are receiving government benefits.
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“When poverty rates increase, more children with mental health disorders become financially eligible for the SSI program,” said Thomas Boat of the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center who chaired the committee. “Consequently, increases in the number of children applying for and receiving SSI benefits for mental disorders are strongly tied to increasing rates of childhood poverty.”
Even as the total number of children receiving SSI rose, the proportion of kids qualifying for benefits due to 10 major mental disorders — including autism and intellectual disability — gradually declined from 54.38 percent in 2004 to 49.51 percent in 2013, the report found.
Over the time period studied, ADHD consistently accounted for the greatest number of kids receiving SSI. The number of beneficiaries with autism increased significantly while other diagnoses like intellectual disability decreased, the panel indicated.
There are disparities across the nation, however, with more than 5 percent of poor children in some states receiving benefits due to mental disorders compared to less than 1 percent of kids in other states, the report found.
“This is not gross over-provision of services, if anything it’s gross under-provision,” said Stephen Buka, a professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health and a co-author of the report. “The reservoir of potentially eligible children who are not receiving benefits is quite substantial.”