(Community Legal Services of Philadelphia image)
Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Millions of people nationwide who experience economic hardship, including 1.1 million children, depend on the federal government’s Supplemental Security Income program for critical assistance that can help lift them out of poverty and help them qualify for Medicaid.
But according to a recent report by Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. Social Security Administration policies, and in the systems underlying applications for benefits, “create inequities in accessing and maintaining” those lifeline benefits.
Obtaining access to those benefits — not to mention keeping them — is no small feat, according to the report. That’s because families are required to “present mental health, physical health, and education records to prove disability,” the report reads. And “if a child is eligible, they must periodically present new evidence to prove they still qualify. Children face possible suspension or termination of benefits if they become involved in the criminal justice or child welfare systems.”
For many families, “SSI benefits provide a majority or the entirety of a family’s income,” the report’s authors asserted. “However, racially disparate access to SSI benefits detrimentally affects many children and families, particularly in Black and Latinx populations. SSA should take steps to address racial disparities within its own programs and in the systems it relies on to determine eligibility for benefits to provide equal access to benefits for all.”
Researchers found, for instance, that:
- “Black children are disproportionately impacted by SSA’s policy choices, like heightened standards for asthma and sickle cell disease. SSA heightened its rules to qualify for benefits based on asthma and sickle cell to be incredibly challenging to meet, despite the disparate impact of these serious health issues on Black children.
- “Black children and non-Black children of color are disproportionately impacted by racism in the systems SSA relies upon for evidence. SSA must rely on information from medical providers, schools, and other systems to decide who is eligible to receive and maintain SSI benefits. Therefore, where racism and inequity exist in education, medicine, behavioral health, criminal justice, and child welfare systems, racism and inequity are perpetuated in the administration of SSI benefits,” the report reads.
What’s more, the Social Security Administration has known for more than a decade that there’s an issue because they were flagged in a September 2002 General Accounting Office report. But because the agency no longer reports race and ethnicity data, Community Legal Services says it’s hard to tell if the feds are making any progress in addressing those disparities.
The Community Legal Services report makes several recommendations for improvements. They include:
- “[addressing] the GAO recommendations to improve its decision-making practices and “more readily identify patterns of misconduct, including racial bias” in its decision-makers by collecting and releasing data on race and ethnicity within its programs;
- “[providing] training to SSI adjudicators on systemic inequities to inform holistic review of evidence in light of marginalized clients’ barriers to care to accumulate evidence;
- “[eliminating] suspension or termination of SSI for custodial juvenile justice placements;
- ” [providing] youth leaving institutional settings who previously received benefits with default eligibility and emergency funds for at least six months, so that the youth has time and resources to build a record with the evidence needed to continue benefits;
- “[amending] its regulations for proving severe disability relating to asthma and sickle cell to eliminate unreasonable burdens which disproportionately affect Black children;
- “[soliciting] comments specifically addressing racial disparities when proposing rule changes;
- “[facilitating] development of an accurate record by being lenient with deadlines to submit records and sending applicants to comprehensive evaluations when an applicant is affected by disparate access to care;
- “[implementing] a national outreach program to find and enroll all SSI eligible children; and
- “[creating] an Office of Equitable Outcomes for the childhood disability program,” the report reads.
“In addition to experiencing poverty at a greater rate while receiving SSI benefits, Black families face challenges proving to SSA that they qualify for benefits and struggle to maintain benefits once they are granted,” the report concludes. “This stems from systemic racial inequities within SSA; in systems like healthcare and education, which impact gathering evidence of disability; and contact with systems such as the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, which impact eligibility to receive benefits.”
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