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What has the Social Security Administration done for you lately? Maybe more than you know.

"I believe our programs should, in every case possible, be used as a leg up, as a steppingstone to a higher plane."

"Our goal is to offer meaningful, available rehabilitation to the disabled population and to help persons with disabilities successfully become valued, contributing members of their communities."

Gwendolyn S. King

Social Security Commissioner

That sort of reassurance from the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) may not fit into the stereotypes many Americans still have about how that federal system might affect the nation's children who happen to be disabled. But if you listen, you'll hear a shift toward a more positive attitude as Commissioner King's words are translated into action.

A FEW SHIFTING IMPRESSIONS:

"I think we'll pass on this Supplemental Security Income (SSI) thing. There's nothing there for my family. It would just be a waste of time to even try."

"All I know personally is that when I

telephoned a year or so ago to find out if

Susan might be eligible, I waited on the

line forever and then got someone who

was rude and unhelpful. I'd already

gone through hassles indirectly when

friends of ours spent months trying to

meet Social Security requirements. They

got turned down flat in the end and

we're in the same boat as they are, struggling

to keep our head above water."

"Sure we need help with all the special

expenses of raising Tom, but those people

aren't going to help us, are they?"

"I've avoided getting Jill into anything

where she'd have to deal with negative

stuff if she gets a little job. ...But you're

telling me there might be positive help

through SSI?"

"We know that eventually we won't be

around. We don't have a lot, but from

what I'd heard before, they wouldn't

give us the time of day. But if things are

changing, maybe we should find out more.

It would really be a blessing if there was

a chance of getting some benefits."

Past apprehension, while understandable, is no longer necessary. Changes have been made and are being planned. And now friendly and practical assistance is available to help your family learn about your potential eligibility for SSI benefits. So why not take a closer look at some of the shifts which may have been taking place while you weren't looking?

WHAT IS SSI ANYWAY?

One of Social Security Administration's (SSA) brochures says it this way:

"SSI is short for Supplemental Security

Income. It pays monthly checks to

people who are aged, disabled, or blind

and don't own much or have a lot of

income. SSI isn't just for adults. Monthly

checks can go to disabled and blind

children, too. People who get SSI usually

get food stamps and Medicaid, too.

Medicaid helps pay doctor and hospital

bills. The basic Federal SSI check for one

person is $407."

While the family's economic status is taken into consideration in calculating eligibility for a child under 18, the calculations can be too complex to include here. For those over 18, parental income isn't included in determining eligibility. These young people's assets and income are evaluated in the same manner as other adults receiving SSI benefits.

LET'S TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT HOW SSA IS CHANGING ITS IMAGE:

Have not doubt about it: Commissioner King is out to change any negative impressions of her multimillion-dollar agency If anyone can do it, this dynamic, can-do lady will. And she intends to get her message out every way she can.

If you haven't checked out SSA's new agenda lately, you'd better look again. Eligibility criteria for SSI benefits for the nation's children with various impairments have undergone significant alterations over the past year as the agency comes into compliance with a 1990 United States Supreme Court decision known as the Zebley decision.

But make no mistake, Mrs. King's desire to make her office a force for positive changes in the lives of America's disability population had already been clearly articulated before she took on the responsibilities of running this mammoth agency Commissioner King was ready to act upon the judgement of the court because it gave her additional impetus to move the agency in the direction she had already decided upon. It has been helpful in turning aspects of her agency around. It has been estimated the changes ordered may well mean an additional $2.5 billion are paid to children with disabilities. But Mrs. King is determined to offer that "leg up" on the path toward equity and fairness.

Cosmetic alterations never seemed appropriate to the Commissioner and she hopes to leave a past which provided "merely viable" standards of support behind as the agency moves into the 21st century.

One aspect of her plan for making use of her agency's resources involves parents helping parents negotiate the pages of requirements to find those features which can be used to help families help themselves. She asserts, "People will go through a door held open by someone familiar much quicker than through a doorway monitored by an official."

THE PART PLAYED BY THE NATIONAL PARENT NETWORK ON DISABILITY - The Social Security Administration needed to find people who could point out the doors of opportunity being opened by the mammoth federal agency. The National Parent Network on Disability (NPND) is beginning a Cooperative Agreement with the Social Security Administration to provide outreach information and support to help parents access the SSI system for their sons and daughters. The Network fit the bill perfectly since it had the tools and expertise to educate the target population. Its networking expertise was an essential ingredient for success. Developed as a coalition of parent organizations and individuals working together to serve children with special needs and their families, it was well-equipped to tell such parents about the changes in the rules and the additional options being opened by the renovated SSI program.

Headquartered in Alexandria, Va., the National Parent Network on Disabilities has embarked on two strategies to reach and help parents: a national outreach plan and targeted demonstrations in three sites. The national outreach program will be conducted by providing information for parents to help them decide if their child is eligible for SSI. The families' income is considered for eligibility of children under age 18. Included in the information packet will be "parent friendly" screening tools to help parents decide if their child may be eligible. After reviewing financial guidelines, if you are even close to the eligibility limits... APPLY for benefits. SSI representatives will help you with the complex details of eligibility. Parents will also be referred to NPND members, the Parent Training and Information Centers in each state. They have additional assistance for parents. The second strategy of NPND, the targeted demonstrations, has begun in Philadelphia and the states of Kansas and Missouri. These targeted campaigns have trained mentor parents in the three locations to demonstrate the effectiveness of parents assisting their peers toward their common goal: building meaningful inclusion in the mainstream of American life for their children and young adults who are disabled. A major resource to be utilized in that effort is just what Commissioner King wanted them to use: the SSI benefit program.

The Parent Mentors are preparing to untangle the web of regulations and cut through the red tape. Parents will explore the options and opportunities together. Mentors will guide family members past the gaps in their knowledge and are already building bridges of communication and cooperation between the nation's families and their local Social Security offices.

You think that sounds too good to be true? Maybe. But just fill out and mail in the form which follows this article and see what happens.

THE SUPREME COURT REINFORCES THE CHANGES:

The current project was given an added organizational spark by that Supreme Court decision referred to earlier. But it might be interesting to look at its effect in a bit more detail. Back in 1983 a national class action suit was filed by lawyers with the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia on behalf of Brian Zebley, a five year old living with his family in the town of Upland. Even though he had congenital brain damage, an administrative law judge found that young Brian did not qualify under the stringent medical severity standards then applied by SSA to all children.

While adult applicants for SSI benefits were evaluated in an increasingly personalized manner with consideration of their individual capacities, eligibility for children was based solely on a list of specified impairments. Thus, to qualify for SSI payments, these youngsters had to fit into a rigid grid of impairments or be rejected without any recognition of the total impact of their disabilities upon their lives.

It was this rigidity which led the Rehnquist Court on February 20, 1990 to rule 7-2 in favor of the Zebley family and hundreds of thousands of other families which had been rejected under the old criteria, which the Justices found to have been "manifestly contrary to the statute" which had created the program. It had taken Brian's case seven years to work its way through the judiciary system, but finally the agency was ordered to develop rules which would better meet the needs of America's youngsters.

During those years, approximately 100,000 families applied each year for SSI benefits for their youngsters. About half were denied. Thus, several hundred thousand previously rejected children as far back as 1980 are members of the class action and SSA will be attempting to locate these children to determine if they may be entitled to benefits.

That decision directly affects both rejected and pending cases. And with the new standards, children previously not brought to the attention of SSA may prove to be eligible. It has been estimated that 37,000 children may be added in the next year to over 310,000 already on the SSI rolls. In addition, the denial rate may be lowered from 50% to 35% during the same period.

Public Law 101-239 called for SSA to begin a national educational outreach campaign by March 1, 1990. Now that effort is underway through projects like the Parent Outreach from the National Parent Network on Disabilities. Commissioner King is committed to getting the word out to every potentially eligible family in the United States of America. According to an Associated Press story in the Washington Times, dated November 29, 1990, she stated, "These kids have already waited more than enough time."

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

If you have never explored the possibilities of SSI for your child or young adult with a disability but are having financial difficulty in managing to provide opportunities for that son or daughter, why not find out if this program might enhance options for your family?

To learn more, read the ad that immediately follows this article. Get NPND to send you information so that you can decide if your son or daughter is eligible for SSI.

IN CONCLUSION:

As he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, President George Bush called this latest civil rights law a sledgehammer with which we can knock down many of the barriers which separate people with disabilities from their dreams. The campaign described here combines the ingenuity of the private sector with the resources of a federal agency. Together they have the muscle essential to hoist that powerful hammer for many of America's sons and daughters who are disabled.

Mary Jane Owen, M.S.W., the Executive Director of Disability Focus, Inc., writes and consults extensively on disability policy. Ms. Owen is blind, partially hearing impaired and a wheelchair user. She serves as a consultant to National Parent Network on Disabilities.
COPYRIGHT 1991 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Owen, Mary Jane
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jun 1, 1991
Words:1943
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