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Growth in SSI prompting a deeper look at cost and role

The Supplemental Security Income program is one that is paid for by general federal tax dollars. Its purpose is to help people with little or no income by providing them a monthly cash benefit. The typical beneficiaries are the elderly poor, the blind and children with disabilities.

When it started in 1974, it mainly supported some children with severe disabilities from indigent families. The cash helped parents who couldn't work because they needed to be home caring for the child provide for basic necessities such as food and clothing.

In the decades since then, and perhaps especially since the 1990s when welfare reforms led to cuts in those benefits, criteria for what qualified as a disability expanded and the number of children on SSI has nearly doubled. But now, new data indicates that the amount of money being spent on SSI has eclipsed what is spent on traditional welfare programs, and that has many worried.

According to government figures, SSI benefits for children amounted to $9.7 billion in 2012. Welfare programs, meanwhile, paid out about $700 million less than that. Last year, while welfare programs cost about $8.7 billion, SSI dispersed about $10 billion.

Some critics note that SSI benefits are more generous than welfare and don't come with the time limits and work rules. As a result, they say poor recipients have incentive to find ways to stay on the SSI roles. They observe that SSI payments now surpass those going for welfare, even though child enrollment in SSI is lower.

SSI supporters say the issue is overstated. They say it isn't easy to qualify for the program and more applicants are turned down for assistance than are accepted. And they say it is critical help for those who do receive it.

What is known is that if a child eligible for SSI benefits is denied them, they suffer. Those with experience in navigating the system also know that it can be a complicated process to apply and pursue an appeal if that's needed. Seeking an attorney's help is therefore recommended.

Source: The Boston Globe, "Aid to disabled children now outstrips welfare," Patricia Wen, Aug. 28, 2014

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