Skip to content

Davis Opening Statement: Hearing on Supplemental Security Income Benefits for Children

October 27, 2011

Good morning.  In today’s hearing, we will review Supplemental Security Income or SSI benefits for children.  

SSI provides monthly Federal payments of up to $674 to 1.2 million low-income, disabled children across the U.S.  In all, SSI provides about $9 billion in payments to children each year, averaging about $8,000 per child.  That $9 billion nearly matches the amount taxpayers spend for welfare checks under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.  That’s one of several reasons the Boston Globe published a series last year calling the children’s SSI program “the other welfare.”

As that series detailed and we will hear today, SSI benefits for children are not only significant in size and expense, but they are also growing rapidly, with nearly a 50 percent rise in the number of children receiving payments over the last decade.  This growth has been driven by mental and behavioral impairments, which include attention deficit hyperactive disorder, autism, learning disabilities, and speech and language delays.  Boys are twice as likely to receive monthly disability payments as girls, and over 60 percent of children on SSI at age 18 continue collecting payments as adults, over a period that can span decades.  

Especially troubling in the Boston Globe series were allegations that some children are being placed on dangerous psychotropic medications in order to increase their chances of qualifying for SSI checks.  That is one of the reasons why I, along with our colleague Congressman Richie Neal, and Senators Collins, Carper and Brown, asked the Government Accountability Office to review this program.  

From GAO’s preliminary findings, we have already learned that medication is merely one factor of many that are used to make a determination.  GAO’s review goes on to cover a broader array of issues important to the oversight role of this Subcommittee, including trends for disabilities under which children qualify, the role of medical evidence in determining eligibility, and SSA re-evaluations of children in the years after they start collecting benefits.  

We are privileged to be joined by Katie and Will Bentley of Covington, Kentucky, part of the Congressional district I am honored to represent.  Will is a child who receives SSI benefits.  We need to keep the interests of children like Will and their families squarely in mind as we consider ways to improve how this program serves them.

A review of the hearing’s testimony reveals all of our witnesses today propose changes in how SSI works, with a common goal of doing a better job helping children and families overcome the disabling conditions that led them to apply for SSI in the first place.  

For example, as several experts have noted, SSI today offers monthly checks without any requirement that benefits be spent on helping the child overcome his or her disability.  Some question whether that may create a financial disincentive to overcoming disability, because that would mean the checks come to an end.  

Other recommendations focus on expecting teenagers on SSI to remain in school in order to qualify for payments.  A disturbing 30 percent of older teens on SSI drop out of school which only adds to the barriers they face in going to work and leading productive lives.

Still other recommendations go to the basic architecture of the SSI program, a largely Federal program that since its inception in the 1970s has spent $160 billion while being run from SSA headquarters in Baltimore.

We look forward to all of the testimony today, and to working with our colleagues across the aisle to improve how this program serves the children and families who depend on it, as well as ensuring the program efficiently and effectively uses taxpayer dollars.