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Brown calls for hearings on disability program

By Patricia Wen
Globe Staff / December 18, 2010

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US Senator Scott Brown called yesterday for Senate hearings to examine a $10 billion federal disability program for indigent children, a response to a three-part Globe series published this week that alleged troubling incentives that pose risks to children.

In a letter to the heads of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Massachusetts Republican said the issues raised about this Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, program — which serves 1.2 million low-income children, predominantly with behavioral, learning, and mental disorders — were “eye-opening and demands our attention.’’

Brown’s request came after US Representative Richard Neal, a Springfield Democrat, responded to the Globe series this week by asking for the House Ways and Means Committee to hold hearings to look at whether too many children are being given psychotropic medications in order to prove the severity of the child’s condition and help them qualify for benefits of up to $700 a month and Medicaid coverage.

The program was created by Congress in 1972 mainly for poor children with severe physical disabilities. Today, it has seen explosive growth in children qualifying for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and delayed speech.

The series also showed how the program has created disincentives for teenagers on SSI to take up part-time work, largely because the pay stubs may jeopardize their benefits.

Patricia Wen can be reached at wen@globe.com.