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Spending cuts endanger SSI help for children

With the current economy struggling to recover, the government has been looking for ways to trim its budget. The Supplemental Security Income program has fallen under a lot of scrutiny lately, mainly with aims to cut government spending. One woman, however, told her Congressional representatives that the program is keeping her family together.

When her son was diagnosed with severe ADHD at the age of four, he had already been kicked out of two preschools because of his violent temper tantrums, the woman said.

Case workers couldn't help, but a doctor recommended the SSI program. The woman enrolled in the program and now receives a $674 monthly check that helps pay for her son's daycare, medication and a private tutor. It also made him eligible for Medicaid, allowing him much-needed visits to the doctor.

The SSI program for children has expanded greatly in the past decade, with qualifying mental conditions like ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder and speech delays being a big reason for the program's growth.

SSI currently supplies 1.2 million low-income families of children with severe disabilities with cash assistance and Medicaid. It costs $10 billion a year and the price tag has grown 40 percent in the past decade. Critics of the program, however, claim that two-thirds of children who receive SSI assistance keep it through adulthood and never enter the workforce, even if they are able.

Advocate groups for people with mental illness, including the American Psychiatric Association, Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have been fighting proposed SSI cuts by lobbying Congress.

Obama's 2012 budget proposed increased funding to the Social Security Administration to conduct regular interviews to determine an SSI recipient's continued need for the program. If the interviewer finds a recipient is no longer in need, that person would be taken out of the program.

On one hand, such measures could keep children getting the help they need while cutting unnecessary costs. On the other, there is the risk that the cuts could run too deep and deprive deserving people of the assistance they require. Do you have any thoughts about the best course of future action?

Source: NPR, "Benefits for Severely Disabled Children Scrutinized," Jenny Gold, 18 Aug. 2011

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