Report: Feds need to close racial gaps in program that helps kids living with disabilities | Tuesday Morning Coffee

December 15, 2020 7:03 am

(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.”

(Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, image)

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 evidenceSSA 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 reportBut 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.

(Image via

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.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller)

Our Stuff.
The Electoral College met in Harrisburg on Monday where things pretty much unfolded according to plans as the 20 Democratic electors cast ballots for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine began arriving in Pennsylvania on Monday, with healthcare workers in 83 hospitals statewide getting the first jabs, Cassie Miller reports.

SWPA’s Albert Gallatin Human Services Agency is helping the region’s seniors through pandemic, our partners at the Uniontown Herald-Standard report in today’s installment of Helping the Helpers.

Is mandatory inclusionary zoning next on Philly City Council’s agenda? Our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune take up that very question.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a College of the Holy Cross scholar explains why Hanukkah is a celebration of Jewish survival. And two aspiring OB-GYNs argue that Pennsylvania needs to stop wasting millions of your tax dollars supporting so-called ‘crisis pregnancy’ centers.

(Getty Images/Maine Beacon)

The Inquirer
 has the details on the first COVID-19 vaccinations being administered statewide and what comes next.
The Tribune-Review explains who’s next in line for the vaccine now that the first round has been administered.
PennLive updates its list of the states with the most COVID-19 cases and where Pa. stands.
Many of the nation’s long-term care facilities with the most coronavirus deaths are in Pa., the Morning Call reports.
NEPA and the Lehigh Valley are bracing for what’s expected to be a major snowstorm on Wednesday, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


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WHYY-FM looks at what the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine means for Pa. school students.
Gun sales are booming statewide 
thanks to the chaos of 2020, the York Daily Record reports.
Protesters were notably absent from Monday’s Electoral College proceedings in Harrisburg, WITF-FM reports. 
The pandemic created a new generation of hunters — states need to keep them, reports.
As benefits and moratoria expireBlack and Latino Americans are threatened by a wave of evictions, Politico reports.

Heavy Rotation.
Patrice Rushen’s ‘Forget Me Nots’ is a soul classic for countless reasons. But chief among them is that it has one of the greatest bass riffs in the history of pop music. Freddie Washington’s pop and snap line is right in the front of the mix, serving as much as the lead instrument as the song’s unforgettable vocal line.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
The start of the next NHL campaign is (maybe) another month away, but it was snowing Monday, and that got us thinking about the fastest game on ice. So why not spend a bit of time musing on this list of top prospects who have to deliver — if they get to play again.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.