Officials: SSI reforms impending

Lawmakers are considering implementing significant changes to a program that assists financially vulnerable families with medical care for disabled children. The program, known as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), provides cash benefits for children who have cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, among other maladies. Benefits are available for children with both mental and physical disabilities.

Pennsylvania is one of the states with the highest rates of SSI usage, according to government reports. Nearly 70,000 children in the state receive the benefits. This number is higher than the rates of SSI usage in New York and California, states that are heavily affected by poverty. These numbers indicate that Pennsylvania residents may be defrauding the system.

National and state officials say that the program has become a significant burden because of rampant abuse. Some families are incorrectly categorizing their children as disabled in order to receive federal benefits, according to federal authorities, which has jeopardized many of the benefits for people who legitimately need the money.

Many families use the benefits to care for their children at home. Low-income families have traditionally been forced to institutionalize disabled children because of inadequate medical and developmental resources. The program was designed to compensate Americans who had to terminate or modify their employment situation to accommodate their child's condition. That can involve trips to therapists or doctors, according to parent advocates.

Although the application process is strict and demanding, a minority of people are still milking the system. SSI beneficiaries have been accused of pressuring their physicians and evaluators to characterize their situations as far more extreme than they actually are, which results in increased revenue. That type of abuse has prompted lawmakers to rethink the SSI administration system.

Lawmakers are awaiting a government accountability report on the issue before they make any decisions, but most of them say that the only option is program reform. Additional safeguards must be implemented to ensure that SSI recipients really need the money they receive.

Source: WICU12, "An in-depth look at issues with federal SSI for children," Emily Matson, May 29, 2012

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