Feds offer new grant to improve outcomes for children on SSI

As advocates for the disabled rallied this week in Sacramento on state budget issues, federal officials unveiled a new grant program aimed at improving the educational and employment outcomes of low-income children with disabilities.

Alarmed by the high dropout rates and unemployment among recipients of Supplemental Security Income who are under the age of 23, the Obama administration plans to make available up to $60 million annually to states interested in building new service programs.

Michael Yudin, who oversees special education and rehabilitative services at the department, said in a statement the goal is to provide strong and effective partnerships with agencies to build capacity to achieve better results and outcomes for child SSI recipients and their families."

Among the outcomes that the program would hope to address is improving the number of SSI recipients that graduate from high school and are both college and career ready. From there, federal officials are hopeful that more SSI clients will find employment and reduce, over time, their reliance on government assistance.

The SSI program provides cash payments to the elderly and the disabled - including children that have little income or other resources. The monthly maximum award in California this year for a disabled minor child is $773.

A total of 1.3 million children were enrolled in the program last year and received about $9.5 billion in benefits.

Although the program has had no major eligibility changes over the last 10 years, the numbers of children receiving benefits has grown dramatically - as much as 40 percent since 2000. Much of the growth has been linked to the increase in mental disorders - which now comprise more than half of the child SSI caseload.

According to a 2011 study from the Princeton-based policy research firm, Mathematica, the social characteristics of SSI recipients between the ages of 19 and 23 are discouraging indicators for the long-term:

- 57 percent were not enrolled in education programs, not receiving vocational rehabilitation (VR) services, and not employed.

- 39 percent did not have a high school diploma and were not currently attending school. By comparison, only 11 percent of all young adults ages 16 to 24 had dropped out of school and not received a diploma.

- 22 percent were employed in a job, compared with a 69 percent employment rate for all adults ages 20 to 24.

- 6 percent were enrolled in some form of postsecondary education after graduating from high school, compared with 41 percent of all youth ages 18 to 23.

Under the new federal grant - dubbed the Promoting Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income or PROMISE - the department of education plans to fund three to six projects with annual awards of between $4.5 million and $10 million.

While states have been given fairly wide parameters to design grant applications, education officials said they are mindful of the need "to strengthen coordination among agencies through the development of interagency partnerships that integrate educational and employment services, supports, and resources," the department said in a notice published this week in the Federal Register.

Department officials noted an interest in testing whether initiating interventions with the child and family when the child is 14 to 16 years of age will lead to better outcomes.

"Effective partnerships can improve the coordination of services, integrate multiple funding sources and other resources at the State and local levels, and enhance the ability of the State to effectively serve child SSI recipients and their families," department officials said. "We also believe that focusing on the needs of both children and their families will help further the long-term goal of independence and self-sufficiency for child SSI recipients. In particular, we are interested in testing whether initiating interventions with the child and family when the child is 14 to 16 years of age will lead to better outcomes."

The department is planning to host webinars on May 30 and June 4 to explain the program in more detail.

To learn more visit: www.ed.gov/PROMISE

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