GAO Releases Official Report on SSI Benefits for Children

Following the 2010 Boston Globe investigation on children receiving cash assistance under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources Chairman Geoff Davis (R-KY) held a hearing examining the oversight of SSI benefits. In addition, a bipartisan, bicameral group of Members of Congress, including Davis, requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a review of the (1) trends in the rate of children receiving SSI benefits due to mental impairments over the past decade; (2) role that medical and nonmedical information, such as medication and school records, play in the initial determination of a child’s eligibility; and (3) steps the Social Security Administration (SSA) has taken to monitor the continued medical eligibility of these children.

On Tuesday, the GAO released its official report titled, Supplemental Security Income: Better Management Oversight Needed for Children’s Benefits, which revealed that the number of child applicants and beneficiaries with mental impairments had increased substantially for more than a decade, even though the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied on average 54 percent of such claims from fiscal years 2000 to 2010. Also noted in the report was that contrary to the Boston Globe claim that parents believed that their children needed to be prescribed psychotropic drugs in order to qualify for benefits, disability determinations are based on a variety of factors. Finally, GAO found that the Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) for children with mental impairments had decreased by 80 percent since fiscal year 2001, resulting in more than 400,000 overdue reviews.

In order to improve monitoring and oversight of the SSI program and strengthen the integrity of the eligibility decision-making process, the GAO recommends that the SSA:

  • take steps to ensure that Disability Determination Services (DDS) examiners accurately record information on secondary impairments in order to improve SSA’s understanding of how multiple impairments may influence decisions;
  • identify the extent to which DDS examiners nationwide experience obstacles in obtaining teacher assessments and school records:
  • eliminate the existing CDR backlog of cases for children with impairments who are likely to improve and, on an ongoing basis, conduct CDRs at least every 3 years for all children with impairments who are likely to improve;
  • ensure that field offices notify their respective DDS offices of those claims in which multiple children within the same household are applying for or receiving SSI benefits so that examiners will be better able to identify potential fraud or abuse in the program and elevate these cases to the attention of SSA’s fraud investigations unit; and
  • ensure that SSA’s CDR waiver process is open, transparent, and public.

So far the SSA has agreed to all but one recommendation stating that while the SSA would like to conduct more program integrity reviews in order to meet the goals established by Congress, budget restrictions has forced the agency to waive more CDR’s in recent years.

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