One of my greatest professional passions is helping children. As a mother, I feel a natural draw to an ailing child and that magnetism has drawn me into my work with Children’s Title 16 cases (SSI). Since these claims are based upon helping disabled children and their families, it boggles my mind that there are so many stereotypical ideations surrounding these benefits and the children who collect them. Now, do not get me wrong. As with anything, there is a population of folks who create bogus claims based on minor impairments found in their children in order to avoid working or to boost their own pocketbooks. In my book, those people should be charged with fraud and given a swift kick to the unemployment office. However, in so many situations, this is not the case.
If you are like me and blessed with a healthy family, you know how much work goes into making your household run efficiently. Things like careers, bills, housework, homework, school commitments, social engagements, family commitments, etc. consume about 99% of your time. Now, imagine your life if one or more of your children were seriously disabled. How would your life change? Would you be able to maintain your career? Would you be prepared for the costly expenses that may come with having a disabled child? Would you be emotionally prepared for the 24/7 work of caring for someone who may need your full attention for the rest of his/her life? These and hundreds of others are the questions we must ask ourselves before we cast judgement on a parent or family asking for help.
With that said, let’s explore what the Federal benefit for disabled children actually includes. Unmarried children under the age of 18 or those up to age 22 (in some situations) may be eligible for benefits if they became disabled prior to the age of 18. Most disabilities must be evaluated by an extensive, sequential evaluation process; however there are several disabilities that are expedited based on severity. These common disabilities include HIV infection, total blindness, total deafness, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, severe intellectual disabilities and disabilities related to extremely low birth weights, just to name a few. If the child is deemed to be disabled under the SSA’s rules, then the SSA will look to financial eligibility. The family of the child (parents or guardians) must have limited income, assets and resources in order to qualify. If the SSA determines that the financial requirements are met, then the child qualifies for a monthly financial benefit, as well as, Medicaid benefits.
One of the biggest misconceptions or stereotypes that I hear concerning these benefits involves questions concerning the financial assistance. The questions I get from people often sound something like this, “Why in the world does a parent need to get money for a disabled child?” Although the answer to this seems obvious to me, it’s a mystery to many. If used properly, that money is intended to be utilized for several things such as nursing assistance for the caregiver/parent to have a break from providing care, co-pays for medical expenses, assistance to make up for the income a parent is losing by being a caregiver, educational expenses not provided by the school, home modification costs and special equipment needed. Sounds expensive, right?
Another misconception that I cannot help but comment on surrounds the improper use of these financial benefits. Children are required to have payees, usually a parent or a guardian. This person is responsible for keeping records of where the money given for this child is spent. If the SSA does their auditing jobs correctly, those who do not report expenditures properly should be flagged and reviewed.
With that, I am led to one of the most angering misconceptions that I hear far more frequently than I should. “These people can get food stamps. Why isn’t that enough”? Well, if what you have already read did not clarify this misconception, I will elaborate. Concerning children, the food stamp benefit, now called the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) has a maximum average allowance of $3.00 to $5.00 per day. Anyone out there able to feed their child three healthy meals a day for $3.00-$5.00? What about a disabled child that is on a special diet that may preclude things like dairy or gluten? I have reviewed the expenditure records of many clients over the years, and I can tell you that food of some sort is almost always on the list.
I have saved what I consider to be the most upsetting stereotype for last. This one sounds something like this; “Great, disability benefits for kids, a new generation of people collecting from the government”. What people do not realize is that the SSI system for children is not set up to be a lifelong benefit. The reality is that in some situations, a childhood disability will have no chance of improvement. Someone with MS is not going to wake up one morning and be more functional. In those situations, the benefit is reviewed when the child attains the age of 18 and continued. However, there are many disabilities that can and do improve, and there are plenty of exceptional children who strive to develop work related skills that make them employable despite living with a serious disability. For those children, the SSA has what is called the PASS Program or the Plan to Achieve Self-Support. Once the child has attained the age of 15, he/she can set aside income from their federal benefits to take on some form of work training or work related goal. And, they are free to attempt work without being penalized. They can continue to utilize their MediCal benefits even if their income exceeds their federal benefit payment thus rendering it moot. The SSA has several different types of programs like this with the intentional goal of getting these young adults employable, if possible, when they reach adulthood.
For more information on these programs, visit SSA.gov and search for “Work Incentives Planning and Assistance” or “Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security program”.
In this heated political climate, it’s important to remember that we all have crosses to bear and concerns about where the world is going. However, our common goal should always be to protect our children, especially those who are disabled and in need of extra help. So the next time you hear one of the stereotypical comments or common misconceptions discussed above, please ask yourself this question, “How would my life change if one of my children became disabled”?
For general information on children’s benefits from the SSA, visit: