Back in 1995 when the United States Congress enacted Welfare Reform, some help for children with developmental disabilities was on the chopping block. It was lumped into the Welfare Reform. Particularly the cash benefit part of the Supplemental Security Program (SSI) was at risk at being cut. This would have been devastating for my daughter, Alison who has severe disabilities and for our family.
Alison and I was asked to testify before a House Ways and Means subcommittee in regards of how vital the cash benefit of SSI is for us. While I was testifying verbally, Alison was testifying with her presence. She was six years old and had recently learned to walk. The committee saw her unsteady gait, her mumbles (she cannot speak), they saw her rest her head on the table.
Alison’s actions and at times lack of actions told the committee more than I ever could with my words. Here is a young child with disabilities with many needs and their legislation could hurt the very child they saw in that room. After our testimony one representative who was clearly moved by our testimony said they would not forget “the Alisons of the world”.
Other representatives in the subcommittee were moved as well, but still seemed to want to cut the cash benefit of SSI for children to reduce whatever abuse of the program was taking place. There were claims of parents coaching their children to act “crazy” in order to get on the SSI program to get a check. The members of the subcommittee could see there was no acting when they saw Alison as she truly has both physical and mental disabilities.
The SSI cash benefit for children with disabilities did continue for children in situations like Alison’s, however there were changes in eligibility criteria to attempt to weed out those who were abusing the system.
It was and is hard enough caring for a child with disabilities. Add on to that with attempts to remove needed supports and services for children with disabilities adds to difficulty families face. Do what needs to be done to reduce abuse but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, instead work on a solution to protect those who truly in need.