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Federal Officials To Review Decisions On SSI Benefits for Disabled Children

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About 45,000 low-income, disabled children who lost their government benefits under the 1996 federal welfare-reform law will have their cases reviewed.

Another 15,000 who applied for the Supplemental Security Income program within the past year, but were denied assistance, will also receive a second look, according to recent announcements by Social Security Commissioner Kenneth S. Apfel. He acknowledged that his department might have made mistakes in carrying out the new law.

The SSI program is meant to help low-income parents with expenses related to rearing a child with a disability.

"While overall, [the Social Security Administration] and the states have done a good job in implementing complex, technical changes in the disability criteria in very short time frames, we are taking these actions because I do not want any child to be disadvantaged as a result of some deficiencies in how the decisions were made," Mr. Apfel said at a Dec. 17 news conference.

In addition, about 75,000 children who were dropped from the program, but did not initially appeal the decision when they were notified, will have a second opportunity to appeal.

The changes have caused the agency to shrink from 135,000 to 100,000 its estimate of the total number of children who will be dropped from the program because of the new eligibility guidelines.

In a press release, Jerome J. Shestack, the president of the American Bar Association, which has offered free legal help to families dropped from the SSI program, called Mr. Apfel's actions "a significant step."

Stricter Guidelines

Concerned that too many children who weren't entitled to SSI were receiving benefits, members of Congress wrote stricter guidelines for the program into the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.

The law now defines children as disabled if they have "a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which results in marked and severe functional limitations." Previously, children were considered eligible if their disabilities prevented them from performing age-appropriate activities.

A majority of the children who have since been excluded from the program have behavioral disorders or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Most of the 60,000 children whose cases will receive another look have mental retardation. Mr. Apfel has also directed the agency to provide additional training on mental retardation to SSA staff members.

Before the redeterminations--as the case reviews are called--there were approximately 1 million children receiving SSI benefits. The payments average $436 a month. Mr. Apfel noted that the 900,000 children still in the program have more-severe disabilities than the children who have been denied benefits.

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Web Resources
  • The Social Security Administration's Welfare Reform Information page highlights provisions in President Clinton's Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that affect SSI eligibility for noncitizens and children. The page also describes the American Bar Association's Children's SSI Project, a program that gives families access to free legal help in appealing their benefits' termination.
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