April 21, 2010

Interim Disability Assistance: a critical thread of our safety net

The following is excerpted from Stacy Braverman's testimony before the Department of Human Services budget hearing on April 19, 2010:

Applying for Social Security can take years: applicants may have to collect and submit medical records, be examined by doctors Social Security chooses, wait for a decision, and request reconsideration and fair hearings on the initial decision. The people who are the most disabled, and thus the most qualified for Social Security benefits, are often the least able to quickly navigate the process. Interim Disability Assistance (IDA) provides up to $270 a month in cash assistance to low-income District residents who await decisions on their Social Security disability benefits.

IDA is therefore a lifeline, a true safety net for disabled District residents patiently embroiled in Social Security bureaucracy.

One Bread for the City client told us he used his IDA towards subsidized rent, a cell phone, and toiletries. Before receiving IDA, it was difficult to contact him and hard for him to keep in touch with the Social Security Administration. When IDA provided him a measure of stability, he was better able to pursue the SSI application process. This winter, Bread for the City represented him in a fair hearing at the Social Security Administration. Many legal service providers and pro bono attorneys do similar work, and are overwhelmingly successful in achieving benefits for their clients. The man we represented won his case and received a sizable back payment—part of which will be returned to the District to cover the amount he was given in IDA. His income increased from $270 a month in District-funded IDA to $674 a month in federal dollars—dollars that benefit both him and the District as a whole as he spends them here.

So IDA provides a bridge to federal funds. The small amounts that IDA pays each month are also a shield that keeps recipients from requiring more costly services. For example, my client Mr. N is on the IDA waitlist. He actually received IDA before he came to Bread for the City, but he struggled with the Social Security process, his application lapsed, and his IDA ended. We helped him reapply for SSI and IDA, but he is currently receiving neither. When I asked Mr. N how his life was different when he got IDA, the first thing he mentioned was that he used to be able to pay the co-pay for his prescriptions. Now, he tries to borrow money from friends and he asked for credit at the pharmacy. Once, his doctor paid for him. Sometimes, he goes without for a time, which leads to medical consequences that can be expensive to unravel.

There are hundreds of people who, like Mr. N, qualify for IDA but are not receiving it. DHS has not taken anyone off the waitlist in many months. Many people I speak to are wary of applying for IDA, because they know benefits will be slow to arrive and that they will face long waits and overburdened staff when they apply.

I was overjoyed to learn that the Income Maintenance Administration plans to take some people off the waitlist next month. However, this wonderful news was tempered by the fact that IMA also plans to cap the program at 1500 recipients, in essence creating a perpetual waitlist. Rather than cap IDA, the District should use existing and new revenue sources to fully fund it. DC could provide more help with Social Security applications to IDA recipients so more of them can transition to federally-funded benefits and the District can recoup more of its IDA expenditures. The District should avoid waitlists, which create yet another bureaucracy that many low-income, disabled District residents are ill-prepared to navigate.

IDA provides a safety net that keeps people from requiring more expensive services and grants them the stability they need to pursue Social Security benefits—and, in turn, to use those benefits in the District’s economy. It is a valuable program for so many of Bread for the City’s clients and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about it today.

No comments: