Testimony of Kate Coventry, Policy Analyst, At the Public Hearing on Human Services Agency Performance: Department of Human Services

Chairman Graham and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Kate Coventry, and I am a policy analyst with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.  DCFPI engages in research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on how policies impact low-and-moderate income families. 

I am here today to testify on the need to expand efforts to help recipients of both Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Interim Disability Assistance (IDA) qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  This requires expanded efforts to identify TANF parents who have undiagnosed disabilities that would qualify them for SSI. It also requires more intensive support early on in the SSI application process for both TANF and IDA recipients. 

Helping more DC residents with disabilities get SSI would improve their financial stability and also provide fiscal benefits to the District, because SSI benefits are fully federally funded.  There is substantial research showing that early assistance in the SSI process, which the District currently does not offer, greatly increases the success in getting approved for SSI benefits.  

Helping residents with disabilities get on to the Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is beneficial in several ways.  First, SSI benefits lead to higher and stable household incomes.  The monthly SSI benefit for an individual is $710 a month in 2013, and benefits are adjusted for inflation each year.  When a TANF parent receives SSI, she is dropped from the TANF grant, but can still receive TANF support for the children.  The combined SSI/TANF benefit is substantially higher than DC’s TANF-only benefits, which stand at $428 for a family of three. 

SSI also can play a critical support to homeless individuals with disabilities.  Mathematica Policy Research, a national research organization, notes that receiving SSI is “often an important first step in improving their life circumstances”[1] because SSI provides financial resources to secure housing, as well as employment assistance designed to meet the specific needs of individuals with disabilities.  Recognizing this, the US Interagency Council on Homelessness has included helping individuals assess SSI benefits as part of its strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. [2]

States and localities also benefit when individuals secure SSI because SSI injects new federal dollars into the local economy.  Recipients spend most, if not all, of their benefits on essential needs, stimulating economic activity through rent payments and food and clothing purchases.  Beyond that, because the federal TANF block grant is a fixed amount from year to year, states receive the same federal TANF funding to serve fewer recipients when a TANF parent moves to SSI.  Helping TANF parents with disabilities move to SSI also helps states meet their TANF work participation requirement because TANF recipients with disabilities are substantially less likely to be working and more likely to be sanctioned for not meeting work requirements.[3]  Once parents receive SSI benefits, they are no longer counted in the state’s work participation rate. 

To read the full testimony, click here.

[1] Mathematica Policy Research.  Findings from a Study of the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery Initiative. 2009.

[2] US Interagency Council on Homelessness.

[3] U.S. Social Security Administration.  Disability, Welfare Reform, and Supplemental Security Income