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SSI follows rise in childhood mental disorders

The Social Security Administration has paid benefits to children in low-income families in Newark and across the nation through its Supplemental Security Income program for over 40 years. Approximately half of the 1.3 million children receiving SSI benefits in 2013 were eligible for benefits because of a disabling mental disorder.

In a report commissioned by the SSA and issued in late 2015, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that the growing participation in SSI reflects trends in the presence of mental health disorders among children after accounting for poverty. This finding is significant because of the recent proposals to strengthen eligibility requirements for SSA benefit programs.

This committee of researchers reviewed data on SSI benefits for beneficiaries with 10 major mental disorders from 2004 to 2013. These included attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disorders. Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder were also reviewed.

SSI eligibility requires that a child have a severe disability and live in a low-income household. Over the 10-year period, poverty increased. This trend impacted trends associated with children in the SSI program. During economic hardship periods, more children with mental-related disabilities will meet eligibility requirements, because their families fall below the legal income threshold.

The committee found that there was a decline in the percentage of children granted SSI benefits for a mental disorder. However, the percentage of children from low-income families receiving these benefits rose from 1.88 to 2.09 percent over that nine-year period. Apparently, participation grew because the number of allowances exceeded the number of children leaving the SSI program each year.

The trends in six types of mental disorders for beneficiaries in the SSI program was compared to Medicaid claimants and population-based national surveys. The committee concluded that the trends in the SSI program were consistent and proportionate with the trends in the rates of the diagnosis and identification of mental disorders for children across the United States.

These results were not unexpected, because the committee found that there may be a larger number of children with disabling mental disorders in impoverished households. This group was consistently larger than the number of children who were SSI beneficiaries for a certain year.

Applying for SSI benefits may be complicated. An attorney should be consulted to help ensure that claimants receive any entitled benefits and may continue to keep these benefits.

Source: Institute of Medicine, "Mental disorders and disabilities among low-income children," September 2015

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