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Why is there so much controversy surrounding the SSI program?

The unfortunate reality for many families with disabled children is that money to cover basic living expenses is sometimes hard to come by. That's because a parent might have to stay home to provide for their disabled child's needs, either cutting the household income in half or removing the sole source of income altogether.

Fortunately, there are programs in place to help people in these difficult situations, including the Supplemental Security Income program. Started back in 1974, the SSI program provides anywhere from $640-$720 in federal funds per month to qualifying children, with families able to receive these benefits for more than one disabled child.

Given that definitions of what constitutes a disability have expanded since the mid 70s, the SSI program has seen its ranks grow considerably, now serving close to 1.3 million children diagnosed as having mental, learning or behavioral disorders.

While this translates into more children being helped, it also translates into more federal funds being spent.

Indeed, federal statistics reveal that $9.7 billion in funds were paid out under the SSI program in 2012 and another $10 billion in funds were paid out in 2013, nearly $700 million more and $1.3 billion more, respectively, than were paid out under national welfare programs.

Not surprisingly, there are many critics of the SSI program, nearly all of whom indicate that the program is out of control from a fiscal perspective, and that some degree of reform must be introduced -- perhaps in the form of time limits and/or work requirements -- to cut the costs of the program.

Proponents, however, vehemently defend the program and its stated mission, calling it a vital lifeline for indigent families that has relatively strict eligibility requirements. Furthermore, they argue that the growing ranks of children in the SSI program is indicative of greater progress on the part of medical professionals in diagnosing and treating disabilities.

The simple truth is that the controversy over the SSI program is not likely to go away anytime soon and will likely increase during election years. Nevertheless, it's important for families with disabled children to understand that they may have options for securing much-needed assistance.

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

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