Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

D.C. Budget Would Suspend Interim Disability Assistance

Lucy Newton, Supervising Attorney

Interim Disability Assistance (IDA) offers $270 per month to individuals who are unable to work due to a disability and who have applied for and have a high probability of receiving federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Once an application is granted, the recipient receives Social Security benefits back to the date of application, a portion of which the federal Social Security Administration (SSA) gives to the District as reimbursement for IDA.  As explained in this short video from So Others Might Eat and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, IDA is often the one resource keeping individuals with disabilities from sinking into utter destitution and homelessness.

Currently, the District is reimbursed about 40% of the money it spends on IDA – one of the highest reimbursement rates of any of the 38 states that have a similar program.  For FY 2011, the District expected to receive $2 million in reimbursement from the federal government for IDA; the District has already outperformed this estimation by receiving $2.5 million.

Despite the relative success of the program’s reimbursement process, Mayor Gray has pointed to the 40% reimbursement rate as a reason to dismantle the program.  The Mayor has proposed slashing up to 75% of the funding for IDA, which would cut the current caseload of 1,500 to about 600 by the end of FY 2012. (The program’s caseload has already been drastically reduced from its peak of 2,900 in 2008, and there is currently a lengthy waitlist for the program.)

At the April 6 budget briefing, the Mayor complained that when the program was conceived eight years ago, “there was supposed to be an effort made to ensure that there was compatibility at the front end, the front door of eligibility, so that people who were accepted were clearly going to be accepted by SSI.”  Because of the number of people in the program who are denied SSI, the Mayor maintained that IDA has meant “the recreation of a general public assistance program for a lot of these people in the city.” (Mayor Gray was likely referring to the District’s former General Public Assistance program, which served a similar purpose but was ended in 1997 in part because its recovery rates were around 20% — half the rate of the current IDA program.)

The Mayor’s thought process and approach to IDA are puzzling.  First, the denial of an individual’s SSI application does not necessarily mean that the application lacked merit and cannot be considered evidence of flaws in the IDA program.  Legal Aid and other service providers frequently represent – and win benefits for – clients with severe disabling conditions who were incorrectly denied benefits by SSA.

Second, leaving individuals with disabilities penniless while they wait several months to receive SSI is not a reasonable solution to concerns about eligibility screening.  Rather, the Mayor should work with the Department of Human Services and advocates to think more creatively about ways to improve the program and, if necessary, the screening process.  Legal Aid stands ready to participate in such discussions.

We encourage you to reach out to Councilmember Jim Graham, Chair of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Human Services, in support of IDA.  You can reach Councilmember Graham at (202) 724-8181 or jim@grahamwone.com.

Previous Making Justice Real posts on IDA:

Mayor Gray’s Proposed Budget Cuts Would Hit Legal Aid Clients Hard (Apr. 15, 2011)

New Video on the Importance of the District’s Interim Disability Assistance Program(Mar. 22, 2011)

Individuals with Disabilities Assistance Program on the Chopping Block (Mar. 17, 2010)

 

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