The Social Security Administration is counting the number of families that receive disability benefits for more than one child, the first step toward a possible cap on cash assistance to low-income children with disabilities.
Social Security's study is driven both by questions about the costs to Supplemental Security Income, which serves a record 6-million low-income elderly and disabled persons, as well as questions of fairness.
SSI pays a maximum of $446 a month per person. The program limits payments to married couples to $669 but has no similar maximum for families with several children collecting SSI disability.
That means a family with three children on SSI could receive more than $16,000 a year in tax-free benefits, in addition to Medicaid and food stamps. And some families with children on SSI also may receive housing assistance or Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
A high-ranking official of the Department of Health and Human Services said Social Security recently launched its study to count the number of households with more than one child on SSI, "with the possibility of recommending some type of family maximum for SSI benefits."
The agency's investigation is the latest twist in an emotional controversy over SSI since the Supreme Court made it easier for children to qualify for SSI disability benefits.
The inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services already is looking into allegations from educators that parents coach their children to misbehave or fall behind in school so they can qualify for "crazy checks" or "crazy money."
There are 771,000 children on SSI today, compared with 340,000 in 1990, the year the Supreme Court issued its ruling.