House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his latest budget on Tuesday, once again proposing deep cuts to vital programs for the poor and middle class to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and corporations. And once again, for all his talk of wanting to help the poor, one of the programs his budget slashes is Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a critical source of support for low-income children with severe disabilities.
What’s more, Rep. Ryan would have you believe that disability advocates like me are in favor of cutting this vital lifeline for kids with disabilities. To make this claim, he has lifted a partial quote from a 1995 Congressional hearing at which I testified and taken it out of context, passing it off as evidence of my support for the Chairman’s proposal. This follows his pattern of mischaracterizing research and misquoting experts in his quest to slash vital safety net programs.
The FY2015 House Budget Resolution includes $5 billion in cuts over 10 years to SSI. This is a program that provides vital income support to low-income elderly and disabled Americans, including about 1.3 million children with disabilities. Only the most severely impaired children in households with very low incomes and resources qualify for SSI. Kids receive about $600 per month on average. While modest, SSI makes it possible for families to care for their children with disabilities at home instead of in costly institutions.
As a long-time advocate for children with disabilities, I’ve witnessed firsthand the difference SSI can make in a child’s life. SSI helps to offset some of the extra expenses related to the child’s disability — like transportation to and from doctors and specialists, adaptive equipment, and specialized child care — many of which may not be covered by private insurance or Medicaid. It also replaces some of the income lost when a parent reduces his or her hours or leaves a job altogether to stay home to care for a disabled child. Benefits are so modest that even with the income support from SSI, over a third of children receiving it remain in poverty.
Research shows that families with more than one disabled child are even harder hit. Over 70 percent of families with more than one disabled child receiving SSI report experiencing material hardships such as food insecurity and difficulty paying for housing and utilities—even with the income support.
Kids with disabilities face considerable obstacles. They are more likely to drop out of school, be unemployed, have lower earnings, and live in poverty as adults. SSI helps parents provide the services and supports kids with disabilities need, offering them a better chance to achieve self-sufficiency later in life, and saving taxpayer expenditures down the road.
Yet those are precisely the families that Rep. Ryan’s budget targets for cuts. Some 150,000 children with severe disabilities and chronic illnesses would see their benefits cut dramatically, forcing parents to make impossible choices, and pitting the needs of one disabled child against those of another.
The cuts Ryan would be nothing short of devastating for our nation’s most vulnerable children and the families who care for them. Families raising low-income children with disabilities need more help, not less. Cutting SSI, especially for families raising more than one disabled child, would push already needy children with disabilities deeper into poverty and would end up costing taxpayer dollars in the long run.
Jonathan Stein is a senior attorney at Community Legal Services.