The District Should Fully-Fund and Reimburse Interim Disability Assistance

DC’s Interim Disability Assistance (IDA) program provides $270 a month — or about $9 a day — to DC residents with disabilities who are unable to work. These residents are in limbo waiting to qualify for federally-funded assistance, which can take a year or two, if not longer. IDA is critical to help those with disabilities meet basic needs and prevent them from falling into homelessness and greater financial hardship. DC should keep this program adequately funded and stop dipping into IDA funds for other purposes.

Despite the benefits of IDA to residents and the city, local funding for the program has been slashed. It has gone from $5.6 million in fiscal year 2008 to just $1.5 million in the current fiscal year. Additionally, in the past two years, the District has used $4 million of reimbursements DC receives when recipients qualify for federal assistance, known as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and put it into the general fund rather than reinvesting it back into IDA. As a result, only 646 residents are currently receiving assistance each month compared to 2,900 in previous years. Nearly 470 residents are on the waiting list with no other means of supporting themselves. 

Even with this caseload reduction, fiscal year 2012 program costs are expected to exceed the budget by more than $400,000. DCFPI urges the Mayor and the DC Council to work together to restore some of the SSI reimbursement funds that have been removed from the program to ensure that current recipients will not be cut off and to serve residents languishing on the waitlist. 

Although $270 may not seem like a lot, recipients depend on this money for rent (often rent shared with others), prescriptions, and necessities like toothpaste. Without IDA, many people with disabilities — who cannot work and have no other income — are forced to rely on more costly emergency services, such as emergency rooms and shelters, thus costing the District more.

This small monthly payment has a real impact on the residents who receive it. One of these residents is Mr. R, a native Washingtonian who used to be a street vendor until a rotator cuff injury left him without the use of his right arm. Lacking a strong support system, he became homeless.  With the support of a pro bono team of lawyers, he eventually got federal assistance. But while he was waiting for his application to get approved, Mr. R used his IDA benefits on basic human needs, like washing clothes, food, and transportation.  He eventually was able to move from homelessness to permanent supportive housing. (For more stories about IDA, please see here).

Furthermore, if the SSI application is approved, the federal government reimburses the District for IDA assistance paid during the application period, thus helping to fund assistance for other residents in need. IDA has been a good investment in the wellbeing of recipients and for the city as a whole.  Restoring funds will continue this investment and offer a needed lifeline to our most vulnerable residents.