Why the jump in SSI benefits for kids?

March 1, 2016

The number of children on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability has surged in recent years, and even after much discussion over the last 5 years, people are still trying to determine all the reasons. Some are asking whether we are doing the best we can for the children involved.

The number of children on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability has surged in recent years, and even after much discussion over the last 5 years, people are still trying to determine all the reasons. Some are asking whether we are doing the best we can for the children involved.

In addition, the fact that the percentage of children getting SSI differs greatly by state and even by county has people wondering.

More: How well are pediatricians managing speech delays?

Much of the discussion began with a series in the Boston Globe in 2010 called “The Other Welfare,” which indicated that once families begin getting the checks, it’s hard to give up the money; that getting the checks creates a mindset that the child is disabled; that sometimes teenagers avoid getting jobs so as not to lose the funding; and that some families believe a child must be on medication to qualify.

A recent report from the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) says that for more than 1.3 million low-income children with severe disability, “the Supplemental Security Income program offers a vital source of financial support.”

To be eligible, children must be in low-income households. Most current child recipients are in households below 200% of the federal poverty level. In 2014, the maximum SSI benefit was $721 per month, according to a brief by Mathematica Policy Research staff.

From 1998 to 2013, SSI child caseloads grew by 45% and the ratio of children on SSI increased by 45% up to 1.8% of all children, according to Mathematica.

In 2012, the Government Accountability Office, a branch of Congress, found that 65% of child SSI recipients are awarded these disability benefits for “mental impairment.” The 3 most prevalent primary mental impairments of those children in 2011 were attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), speech and language delays, and autism.

Last year, at the request of the Social Security Administration, a NAM committee looked at mental impairments other than speech and language problems. In its report “Mental Disorders and Disabilities Among Low-Income Children,” the committee stressed, first off, that there is limited information about the trends in mental disorder rates and the disabilities associated with them in children in general, but it found that over the 10 years ending in 2013, the percentage of low-income household children allowed SSI for mental disorders had actually decreased. However, the total percentage of children in poverty had increased, so more children with mental disorders had become eligible for the program. About 22% of these children had a diagnosis of ADHD and another 21% had autistic disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders.

NEXT: What about speech and language issues?

 

Another NAM committee looked at speech and language issues separately. In a January 2016 report titled “Speech and Language Disorders in Children: Implications for the Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income Program,” the committee said that currently about .31% of US children receive SSI benefits for speech and language disorders, and the total number has tripled in the past decade.

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Surveys have found an increase in speech and language disorders in children in the general population. The National Survey of Children’s Health, done by telephone by the National Center for Health Statistics, showed the percentage of children with these disorders increased from 3.8% to 4.8% of the child population from 2007 to 2011, and, says the panel, the trends in annual SSI initial allowances parallel the overall increases in these disorders in the child population.

There are no studies on why the increase in the population is happening, said the committee, but it noted that studies on autism spectrum disorder and ADHD say causes of the increases in those disorders include awareness of developmental disorders, more availability of early intervention and special education, and changes in definition.

The 2 NAM reports did not investigate the cause of the state-by-state variation in the percentages of children receiving SSI. The Mathematica report found that in 2013, “There was a pattern of larger SSI-child population ratios in Northeastern and Southern states, suggesting regional concentration in caseload growth, [although] some states in these regions (such as New Jersey) had SSI-child population ratios below 1.5%.” Seven states, mostly in the South, had ratios above 2.5%. The percentage of children on SSI in 2013 varied from .6% in Hawaii, North Dakota, and Utah to 3.3%in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The NAM Mental Disorders and Disabilities report said investigations are also needed on improving evaluation of impairment and disability in children and on the effects of child SSI benefits on family income and work.

Both NAM reports are available at no cost at iom.nationalacademies.org. Search under “Reports” for SSI. The mental disorders report also features an in-depth review of how SSI works.

Ms Foxhall is a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area. She has nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with or financial interests in any organizations that might have an interest in any part of this article.