Program for disabled kids has unintended effects

Patricia Wen, of The Boston Globe, examines the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program for children and finds the program “has gone seriously astray” and describes it as “a fast-growing alternative welfare system.”

And once a family gets on SSI, it can be very hard to let go. The attraction of up to $700 a month in payments, and the near-automatic Medicaid coverage that comes with SSI approval, leads some families to count on a child’s remaining classified as disabled, even as his or her condition may be improving.globe-ssi

Wen found that the program, which was intended to serve children with severe physical disabilities, now mainly serves children with behavioral, learning and mental conditions and carries financial incentives to put children on psychotropic drugs. She writes that preschoolers are the fastest-growing group to qualify for SSI, “largely because of a 12-fold spike in cases of speech delay. The government is aggressively trying to help these young children, but spends little time to see if they’re getting any better.”

Another, unintended, effect of the program is that teenagers on the program are declining to take part-time jobs despite their desire to start careers and not be dependent on the government. Wen explains “they fear working will jeopardize their disability checks. Their families are poor and need the money.”

Of interest to reporters interested in localizing the story, the package contains a data-driven interactive map that shows how many children in each state are receiving SSI assistance, the percentage who became eligible because of mental disabilities and the top five diagnostic categories.

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