Suspecting fraud, the Social Security Administration is reviewing the claims of hundreds of Eastern Washington and North Idaho children with attention deficit disorder who get disability checks.
Officials fear some poor parents took advantage of loose guidelines, coaxing their children into faking symptoms. Qualifying children get up to $500 a month in Supplemental Security Income.
“We suspect, but haven’t found” fraud, said Michael Rineer, operations supervisor for the Spokane Social Security office. Nevertheless, the review has led to the elimination of benefits for many.
The review was demanded by Congress last year. As part of welfare reform, federal rules for SSI were tightened, making it harder for parents of kids with ADD to get benefits.
Previously, children didn’t need a medical diagnosis and could qualify based on a single school counselor’s assessment, said Rineer.
With the review nearly done, 114 of the 328 children in the Spokane area will lose their ADD-related benefits, according to Dale McGruder, area manager for the state Disability Determination Service.
In Idaho, a statewide review of 1,500 cases is still under way, but about 40 percent of the claims examined have been stopped, according to Sharon Grunke of the Idaho DDS office.
SSI is intended to pay for treatment of children with ADD who live in low-income families, although parents previously weren’t required to spend the money on their child.
Qualifying children also received Medicaid, which pays for medication.
ADD claims rose steeply during the early 1990s, as the controversial disorder gained attention.
News reports exposed instances in which parents asked teachers to diagnose ADD in their child in order to qualify for benefits. Government watchdog groups railed against the disability classification.
“The kids were calling them ‘crazy checks,”’ said Jim Campi of Citizens Against Government Waste, based in Washington, D.C. “It’d be safe to call this totally inappropriate.”
The review in both states will likely be completed within a month, although officials have asked for more time. The Social Security office is sending letters to the parents of children who failed to meet the stricter rules.
Advocates for ADD children plan to challenge some of the decisions to cut off benefits.
The cuts will leave some poor families unable to care for their ADD child, according to Debbie Snyder of Washington PAVE (Parents Are Vital Educators), an organization helping disabled children.
Snyder fears children with multiple disorders can slip through the new guidelines.
“The end result is going to be a whole lot worse than what we have now,” she said.
Rineer said the review of ADD cases has been overshadowed by pending cuts in benefits to legal immigrants.
But he questioned why the children qualified in the first place for SSI, intended to replace income lost by disabled workers.