May 10, 2010

Interim Disability Assistance in Jeopardy

By Lucas Sharma, a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and Bread for the City's Northwest Legal Clinic Coordinator.

Mr. S has a wide range of disabilities -- ranging from chronic knee pain to HIV to severe depression. As such, he qualified to receive income support from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federally-funded program. To qualify for SSI, someone must be by definition unable to work. But SSI applications can take years to wind their way toward approval -- years during which, in most cases, applicants are unable to work.

Mr. S applied for SSI in July of 2007. He was only just recently approved to receive monthly benefits. So, during that almost three-year waiting period, how did Mr. S sustain himself?

The answer is Interim Disability Assistance (IDA). Like almost 40 other states, DC’s IDA program helps support people like Mr. S while they wait for a decision from the Social Security Administration (SSA). IDA provides up to $270 a month, a small sum that nonetheless keeps many people living with disabilities from becoming homeless or going without food or medicine. (Read more on this blog about IDA here.)

This program made all the difference in Mr. S's ability to live a life that was difficult, but at least secure. Mr. S told us that IDA helped him stabilize his life, and ensured that he could follow up with his multiple appointments each week. IDA gave him a sense of hope – not least of all, hope that his SSI benefits would be approved in the near future.

This is a safety net program that can be reimbursed in part with federal dollars from the SSI program. When an IDA recipient is awarded SSI benefits, the District is able to reimburse itself for the amount of IDA paid to a successful SSI applicant from any back payment paid to that applicant (the back payment represents the SSI benefits the individual would have received from the date of application until the date SSA approved the application).

IDA is facing severe budget cuts of up to $7 million. More than a thousand disabled DC residents are on a waiting list to receive this emergency financial aid. But a waiting list defeats the purpose of IDA, which is designed for people who are already waiting for critical support!

Please email the DC Council to express your concern and to ask them to restore funding to IDA.

Your emails are needed TODAY! Please email:

Vincent Gray,
David Catania,
Michael Brown,
Phil Mendelson,
Kwame Brown,;
Jim Graham,
Jack Evans,
Mary Cheh,
Muriel Bowser,
Harry Thomas, Jr.,
Tommy Wells,
Yvette Alexander,
Marion Barry,

Sample message (feel free to modify this to reflect your concerns or experiences):
DC residents with disabilities need your help. Please restore the $7 million that the Mayor’s proposed FY2011 budget has cut to Interim Disability Assistance. If the cut is not reversed, between 900 and 1,400 residents with disabilities will have no income while they wait the months or years it can take to get a decision on their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims. The District will also lose the federal reimbursements which help pay for IDA. More importantly, residents forced onto the waiting list will face homelessness and hardship. They will be left with no money for rent or household expenses, no money for bus fare to doctors’ appointments or for any other basic needs.

Anything you can do to restore full funding for IDA will help District residents with disabilities avoid severe hardships. Thank you.
For more information or to get involved in advocacy to support IDA, please contact Bread for the City’s Legal Clinic at (202) 386-7081 or contact Scott McNeilly at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, (202) 328-5508.

--Lucas Sharma

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