About 135,000 children with mental or physical problems whose families receive disability payments, including 610 children in Orange County, will lose their benefits under the welfare reform law, the Social Security Administration announced Thursday.
Although the government has known since last year that children with those problems will lose their benefits, the announcement provided the first solid estimate of the number that will be affected.
Most of those being cut from the rolls have mental or emotional problems such as hyperactivity, but will no longer be considered eligible under new, tougher rules imposed by the welfare legislation.
The Social Security Administration said it has adopted new eligibility standards and is mailing notices to the families of 260,000 disabled children telling them their cases will be reviewed.
The agency forecast that about 135,000 of those children will be dropped from the rolls. Children are eligible for federal disability payments under the new law if they have “marked and severe” limitations.
For example, a 6-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who wears leg braces and whose speech is hard to understand can keep drawing benefits. But a 9-year-old with attention deficit hyperactivity who lags two years behind his age group in school and gets in trouble with classmates and teachers will become ineligible.
The impact “will be devastating” on families who depend on the disability checks for paying basic bills for food, clothing and shelter, predicted Marty Ford of ARC, a national organization on mental retardation. A parent often must stay home from work to care for the child, she said.
Ford said the administration is too strict in interpreting the law, and could have established standards that would have reduced eligibility by just a thousand cases.
However, administration officials insisted they had no choice but to follow the intent of Congress, and said the original welfare bill vetoed by the president could have removed from eligibility 700,000 of the 1 million children now receiving disability payments.
The new regulations and estimates were contained in the administration’s budget package for the 1998 fiscal year.
Even as the administration announced rules that will reduce the number of children receiving disability benefits, it also announced a proposal to extend health insurance to 5 million children now uncovered.
About 10 million children, one in seven Americans under the age of 18, lack health insurance. Most come from homes with working parents.
The budget calls for expenditures of $2.8 billion in fiscal 1998, which begins Oct. 1, and $18.4 billion over five years for three programs to expand coverage of children.
The first part would pay for up to six months of health insurance for families of workers who lose their jobs. States would get money to pay the insurance premiums.
A second category of spending would enable the working poor--people with jobs who make too much to qualify for the Medicaid program for the poor--to buy private insurance to cover their children. The states would get grants to help these working families buy coverage.
A third program would make a major effort to find 3 million children who are eligible for Medicaid but not covered.
Together, the three programs should provide health protection for 5 million children, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
The administration plan also would allow states to extend Medicaid coverage for an extra year to children whose parents move off welfare or change jobs. Medicaid, called Medi-Cal in California, is available to the poor.
The proposed budget “makes a dramatic step to help our children,” Shalala said.