May 23, 2011

Save IDA: Save Dollars and Save Lives

We’ve blogged a lot about Interim Disability Assistance (IDA), a program that provides low-income District residents with $270 a month while they wait for Social Security to approve them for disability benefits. We’ve even advocated for a similar program for TANF recipients, to help them get on SSI and pay TANF costs back to the District. We are pleased to note that such a program appears in the Mayor’s proposed TANF budget for Fiscal Year 2012, but we vigorously oppose another line in the budget—one that would completely eliminate the IDA program, putting more than 900 lives in turmoil. Watch this video from SOME and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute to learn about the support IDA provided to three men who are too disabled to work:

I work in the legal clinic, and represented a client with a similar story. Ms. C has several serious mental illnesses, along with orthopedic problems that have left her with pins and screws in several joints. She had worked for many years in the construction and food service industries, but she became sicker and was no longer able to work. She applied for benefits in September 2008; it took two denials and 31 months for her to have a hearing before one of Social Security’s administrative law judges. Ms. C was homeless, and IDA helped her afford some important items, like soap and socks and bus passes. Bread for the City represented Ms. C at her hearing and won.

Ms. C is now entering Bread for the City’s representative payee program and is excited to have an income she can use to apply for apartments. In addition, Ms. C won back benefits for all the months she was awaiting Social Security’s decision. She will be able to pay the District back for all the IDA she received, and can use the remaining lump-sum payment for expenses such as a security deposit -- and even potentially an apartment of her own, though even on a budget with Social Security benefits, this is no easy task (and still more budget cuts threaten to make it even harder). But it’s clear that Social Security benefits will dramatically increase Ms. C’s stability, and IDA was the bridge that helped her get there.

As we blogged about on Tuesday, our social services program helps people apply for these benefits. Our cases have a very high approval rate, as we gather medical evidence, write supportive reports, and advocate with the disability examiners. If social service clients or other low-income DC residents have their initial application for benefits denied, and are then denied at the reconsideration stage, Bread for the City’s legal clinic evaluates their cases for representation at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Staff attorneys, volunteer attorney Bruce Mayor (who has been representing Bread clients in Social Security matters for nearly a decade!), and non-attorney interns and volunteers gather medical records, write briefs, and attend hearings for the clients we accept. We also refer cases to attorneys through the DC Bar Pro Bono Program.

And we’ve been remarkably successful. Our social services program has helped 43 people apply for benefits so far this year and already 23 have been approved. Meanwhile, our legal clinic just won our 27th hearing of 2011. All 27 of those victories are for people who have been denied benefits at earlier stages in the process! That’s a lot of federal dollars coming to low-income DC residents: to spend in local businesses, to reduce the need for emergency assistance, to keep up with rent and avoid eviction. The cases our legal clinic alone has won so far in 2011 will bring over $220,000 in federal dollars into the District each year, and provide much-needed stability to dozens of disabled people who are unable to work.

We are eager to continue to make money for the District, but we need help. It’s much easier to represent a client that can afford a phone, transportation, and sometimes even a stable address. These basics for communication and peace of mind enable faster determinations and ultimately more money in back payments for DC. We hope the City Council will find the money to keep this program.

You can tell them to do so yourself. Contact Chairman Kwame Brown at 724-8032 or, and tell him something along the lines of this:

The Interim Disability Assistance Program is an essential part of the safety net for District residents with disabilities. It’s also a mechanism for drawing down federal revenue to serve extremely low-income District residents and for transitioning those disabled individuals to a federal income source that will better allow them to sustain themselves. Please do not allow IDA to be eliminated and ensure that it has the funds necessary to serve those who need it.

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