Vital Signs

A Poverty of Spirit

A little-known federal program called Supplemental Security Income (SSI) fosters dependency and destructive behavior among our nation’s poor.  SSI was begun in 1974 with the intention of helping aged, blind, and disabled people of little or no economic means.  The disability part uses the same medical standards for determining disability as does Social Security, which includes disability insurance for those who pay the Social Security payroll tax.  But SSI payments come from general government revenue, not from the Social Security Trust Funds.  The SSI program includes a “child-disability” provision, in which SSI families receive extra cash for each child under 18 who meets the definition of disability.  The current maximum payment is slightly over $600 per month for each disabled child, with no strings attached.  There is no limit per family.  Theoretically, a mother on SSI with ten disabled children could receive up to $6,000 per month and spend it as she chooses.  Many families have three or four children on SSI, thus receiving $2,000-3,000 per month in addition to other welfare benefits like Medicare, subsidized housing, food stamps, and free education.  Working at a minimum-wage job would severely reduce the family income.

I worked for 35 years for the Social Security disability-determination program, which includes SSI cases, both child and adult.  For the last 13 years (1996-2009),...

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