November 11, 1997 in City

As To Poor People’s Disabled Kids, It’s Tough Luck, Y’All

Molly Ivins Creators Syndicate
 

Because of the wonders of welfare reform, almost 140,000 poor, disabled children have now had their Supplemental Security Income benefits cut off for failure to meet strict new standards of what constitutes a disability.

And who are these poor children who were freeloading so greedily at the welfare trough? So far, we’ve found kids who suffer from cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, schizophrenia, bone disease, severe manic depression, severe retardation and an entire catalogue of crippling mental and physical afflictions that would wring tears from a stone.

These are the children the Republicans in Congress claimed were “faking” and had been coached by their parents to “act crazy.”

Opal White of Houston is taking care of three grandchildren, 13, 11 and 7. On Aug. 7, 1993, their mother committed suicide in front of them.

“They’ve been diagnosed with mental depression, one is schizophrenic, one hears voices, and the other is suicidal,” White said Thursday. “They have been under psychiatric care since December of ‘93. It’s been hard: I tried to take them to (the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation), but I didn’t have the legal guardianship then.

“In May of ‘94, at the school, they tried to make the one boy make a Mother’s Day card. He told them he didn’t have a mother, but they say, well, make the card for a grandmother or any mother, and he tore up the whole school, and the law escorted him to the hospital.”

Teresa Colwell of Denison has two sons, both born hydrocephalic, a condition also known as “water on the brain.” Robert, the younger boy, has been cut off. He suffers seizures and is in a special-ed class.

“I had an appeal - I asked for a hearing on it,” said Colwell, “and they told me, ‘Well, your other son will be next.’ I don’t understand why the government is cutting off children like my children. The problems they’ve got will never leave them. Now, he might have to have the shunt to drain the water off. My husband is a disabled veteran, and I can’t keep a steady job because the kids need to go to the doctor so much. They have had so many tests I can’t keep track, and medications, too.”

The children are being cut off without any consultation with the doctors who treat them or any examination of the children. Most of the time, a letter simply arrives announcing the cutoff.

Many of the families do not know how to appeal, and some do not even know that an appeal process is available to them. The standards being applied differ from state to state. Mississippi has cut off 82 percent of the children being reconsidered under the new standards; in Texas, it’s 80 percent, and in Washington, D.C., only 36 percent. Another case of justice depending on geography.

The predictable result of this stupid and cruel policy is that poor families, living on the margin at the best of times and struggling to care for their damaged children, will be forced to institutionalize them. Mental hospitals and state schools for the retarded will be flooded with new patients; and, of course, institutionalizing someone is incredibly expensive. Disabled kids on SSI can get around $400 a month.

Michelle Bonner of Clarksville has an 8-year-old son with cerebral palsy. “He was born four months premature; he had a cyst on his brain … The doctor says his speech might improve, but he’s got one eye that’s really bad. He already had surgery on it, and it needs another surgery.

“I had just now got on my feet. I’m getting a divorce, and I was hoping to find a specialist for him, maybe at the Scottish Rite in Dallas, to get a brace for his leg. I thought maybe with a brace, he could walk better. And now this.

“They said I had 10 days to appeal, but I had to file it in writing. I called and said, ‘Send me the papers to appeal.’ But they said I had to file the papers there, and it’s 30 miles over to Paris, and I couldn’t get there. When I called to say could I mail the papers back, they said it was too late.”

The government says it will save $5 billion over five years by removing these children from SSI. Aren’t we proud of them for making this vast saving? We could buy two or three more rain-challenged Stealth bombers with that kind of money.

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