Many Eligible Low-Income Kids with Mental Disabilities Not Getting SSI Benefits, Says IOM Report

September 17, 2015

Many low-income children with mental disorders who are eligible for federal benefits may not be receiving them, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that was co-authored by a researcher from the University of Pittsburgh.

The findings of “Mental Disorders and Disabilities Among Low-Income Children” also noted that the number of children who do receive assistance has been rising in accordance with overall mental health trends and rising poverty rates.

“Federal assistance programs for children with mental disabilities are being underutilized when they could help cover the costs to improve the health and wellbeing of the child and family,” said Amy Houtrow, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and pediatrics, Pitt School of Medicine, who served on the committee that authored the report. “It appears that more kids could benefit from available funding, and the medical community could help eligible families become aware of the benefits and how to apply.”

For the report, the committee examined the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which provides benefits to low-income people with disabilities.

The percentage of poor children who received federal disability benefits for at least one of 10 major mental disorders increased only slightly from 1.88 percent in 2004 to 2.09 percent in 2013, the report said. While 20 to 50 percent of potentially SSI-eligible kids with autism spectrum disorders received benefits; depending on state of residence, just 4 percent of potentially SSI-eligible kids with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder; and 3 percent of those with mood disorders, received benefits.

“We also found that while the percentage of American children living in impoverished households has increased, particularly during the economic recession from 2008 to 2010,” said Dr. Houtrow, who also is chief, Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine, at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. “Further, the proportion of children who have disabilities has increased every decade since the 1960s. This means that more children should qualify for federal benefits,” she added.

Anita Srikameswaran, 412 578-9193,
Andrea Kunicky, 412-692-6254,