Many Poor Kids With Mental Illness Miss Out on Benefits

Megan Brooks

September 21, 2015

A "sizable" number of US children with mental disorders who are from low-income households do not receive federal benefits under the Social Security Administration's Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in Washington, DC.

However, the number of these children who are receiving SSI funds is growing at a pace consistent with the mental health trends in the general population, the report indicates.

"We hope this will lay to rest the questions about whether too many kids are getting benefits for mental health conditions," James M. Perrin, MD, immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a member of the committee that wrote the report, said an article in AAP News.

"Secondly, we hope it will help alert all of our communities, not just the pediatric community but also the mental health community...about the availability and value of these benefits for children and families," Dr Perrin said.

Since 1975, the federal SSI program has provided stipends to disabled individuals with limited income and resources. In 2012, SSI payments to children totaled roughly $9.9 billion, which is about 20% of the program's total payments. In 2013, about 1.3 million children received SSI disability benefits. Roughly half of them qualified primarily because of a mental disorder.

The new report, released September 16, shows that the percentage of poor children who received federal disability benefits for a major mental disorder rose from 1.88% in 2004 to 2.09% in 2013. After taking poverty into account, this increase is "consistent with and proportionate to trends in the prevalence of mental disorders among children in the general population," the committee said.

During the study period, among major mental disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder made up the largest number of program allowances.

The committee also found evidence that children living in poverty are more likely than other children to have mental health problems and that these conditions are more likely to be severe. Access to Medicaid and income support via SSI may improve long-term outcomes for both children with disabilities and their families, the committee said.

Under AAP policy, pediatricians are to make families aware of the SSI program and help them apply for funds. "It's important for pediatricians to realize that they're not making a determination of disability," Dr Perrin said. "We're not being asked to do that. We're just being asked to provide clinical information so that SSA can make that determination."

Mental Disorders and Disabilities Among Low-Income Children. Published online September 16, 2015. Full text

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