A congressional staffer who focuses on the federal budget told a group of public policy analysts and advocates that major reforms must be made to the Supplemental Security Income program if beneficiaries are to ride out expected budget cuts. The program, which provides billions of dollars each year to disabled children, is in danger of serious cutbacks, he said, and reform is needed if the program is to continue.

The program has been controversial since its inception, even though SSI benefits provide a link to important services for disabled youth. Advocates have called the program crucial for low-income families with few resources to care for disabled children. Critics of the program argue that impoverished individuals are encouraged to label their children as disabled even if they aren’t in order to obtain additional benefits.

SSI has been around for nearly 40 years and has changed very little, primarily because lawmakers hesitate to alter programs that help low-income children. Children enrolled in the program receive as much as $700 each month.

Reform advocates say that paying directly for services would allow the program to oust fraudulent claims and provide benefits to those who truly need additional resources. The debate continues, as lawmakers say that a comprehensive change is unlikely because it would be such a massive undertaking. Other national initiatives will likely take priority in this election year.

Experts say that a complete study of the SSI program would be necessary before any reform measures could be undertaken, and investigators determine how prevalent fraud is. Some evidence exists to support the use of continued SSI reviews; for every dollar spent on claim audits, about $12.50 is saved in improperly distributed funds.

Source: The Boston Globe, “Program for disabled children under scrutiny,” Patricia Wen, May 11, 2012