High medical costs associated with raising children with disabilities or special health care needs (SHCN) can drain a household’s budget and force families to struggle with providing even those most basic necessities. For households with particularly low incomes and almost no assets, federal disability benefits (SSI) can help offset the cost of care for these children with SHCN. However, research from Children’s HealthWatch shows that families with children with SHCN are at the highest risk for food insecurity even if they are receiving SSI. Families of children receiving SSI face hardships in finding jobs with adequate wages that enable them to care for their child and frequently do not have the ability to build assets that could help protect from sudden economic shocks. While many families with children receiving SSI may also receive SNAP benefits, SSI often reduces the SNAP benefit amount because it is countable household income. SNAP benefits are also not adequate to purchase an ordinary diet and may be depleted even faster for households with children with specific dietary needs.
Children’s HealthWatch recommends the following policy changes to support children with SHCN receiving SSI
- Sustain SSI benefit levels to ensure children with special health care needs continue to receive support to offset the cost of their medical care and needs.
- Modify the asset limit of $3,000 per household so families have the ability to save money that can help absorb sudden financial hardships or allow them to better stabilize themselves financially.
- Partially exclude SSI benefits from SNAP benefits calculations so families are able to receive more nutritional assistance.
- Simplify the verification process for the medical expense deduction for SNAP so more households are able to take advantage of this deduction. Families with disabled members can deduct medical expenses over $35 per month which can increase benefit amounts.
SSI is a critical resource that helps low income families with children with disabilities or special health care needs but it is often not enough to ensure access to basic necessities. Ensuring that benefits amounts provide enough resources for families is essential to helping these vulnerable families and children. SNAP policies should also be updated to ensure families already at risk for food insecurity are able to meet their nutritional needs and those of their children.