May 17, 2011

Don’t cut IDA, but do make it better

Interim Disability Assistance (IDA) is a vital program to our clients here at Bread for the City. It can take years for some clients to get approved for Social Security disability benefits and with our clients unable to work during that time period, this cash assistance program gives these clients $270 dollars per month to make ends meet. When clients are approved, Social Security pays back IDA for payments to the client. IDA in the District of Columbia has a recoupment rate of 40% of the funds it gives out – roughly equal to rates in other states. In the upcoming budget vote on May 25, IDA is in danger of being completely eliminated.

This program should not be cut. The people who receive IDA have no other options for income and this monthly assistance makes a huge difference for being able to ultimately get approved for SSI. One client, Ms. J, makes a compelling case for IDA. She worked for many years, but suffers from serious and worsening physical and mental illnesses and had to leave her job. She received IDA for the two years it took for the Social Security Administration to find her disabled. Ms. J put almost all of the $270 a month she received each month towards rent; although she was almost evicted on several occasions, those funds, with the help of relatives and non-profits, kept her from homelessness. IDA also paid for things that food stamps and other programs do not: bus rides to her doctor, over-the-counter medication, toothpaste. Our attorneys were more effective representatives for Ms. J because she had a phone where they could call her, a stable address where Social Security could send her notices, and funds to travel to medical appointments or her Social Security hearing. As a result, Ms. J qualified for disability benefits and recovered a large back award, of which part was sent to the District.

Instead of using costly emergency services, the money she got from IDA – and the SSI she receives now – is generated additional economic activity.

Instead of cutting the program, I have some ideas for making it more efficient, based on the SSI application assistance we provide here at Bread. Here in our social services program at Bread for the City, we help clients apply for disability benefits. During the Initial and Reconsideration level applications, we request medical records and have regular contact with the client’s Disability Determination Services examiner to make sure they have everything needed to make a decision on their disability. We help streamline the process and make each submission as effective as possible. This helps the DDS examiner not to have to wait months for records and hopefully means our clients receive a fast, favorable decision.

DC’s IDA program could include applications assistance. The District is already working with SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery) to improve access to application assistance for homeless and recently incarcerated residents. Bread for the City has been involved with this organization for years. We believe they have developed a great model in which case workers help disabled clients submit complete and detailed applications that clearly present any medical evidence of the claimant’s disability. This allows for the applications to be processed quickly and efficiently and increases the number of first-time approvals, thus saving the time and expense involved in lengthy appeals. We have incorporated many of the SOAR best practices into our own applications assistance work.

By improving the process to get applicants approved for SSI, more money would ultimately be recouped from Social Security. Elements from Washington state’s IDA program, called Disability Lifeline, could also be used to assist with the SSI application process, such as having an initial assessment by a member of a trained assistance team to help determine the level and duration of the disability. This worker can assist with the initial application and improve the quality of the application submitted, in turn increasing the likelihood of approval in the early stages.

When clients fail to get approved for SSI in the initial or reconsideration stage, they advance to the hearing stage. It can take over a year for a hearing to be scheduled, during which time they continue to receive IDA even though no progress is being made on their application. Helping clients get approved before the hearing stage would allow others off the waitlist to receive IDA benefits, thus needing less money overall to run the program and helping more people.

If the District is not satisfied with the recoupment rate, it should modify the program, not eliminate it. Recipients of IDA truly have no other means of support; taking this program out from under them will result in homelessness and more costly emergency services. Especially considering the possible closure of homeless shelters due to budget pressures, our neighbors are likely to experience increased rates of mental illness, substance use, domestic violence, and even death. Please take a few minutes to call your Councilmembers now to ask them to fully fund safety net programs:

Kwame Brown (Chairman) 724-8032 or
Vincent Orange (at-large) 724-8174 or
David Catania (at-large) 724-7772 or
Phil Mendelson (at-large) 724-8064 or
Michael Brown (at-large) 724-8105 or
Jim Graham (Ward 1) 724-8181 or
Jack Evans (Ward 2) 724-8058 or
Mary Cheh (Ward 3) 724-8062 or
Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) 724-8052 or
Harry Thomas, Jr. (Ward 5) 724-8028 or
Tommy Wells (Ward 6) 724-8072 or
Yvette Alexander (Ward 7) 724-8068 or
Marion Barry (Ward 8) 724-8045 or
Jen Budoff, Council Budget Director 724-8139 or

You can also email them all at once here.

No comments: