Wince of the Week December 9-15, 2012, from Greg Kaufmann’s “This Week In Poverty” in The Nation:
In a somewhat bizarre op-ed last Sunday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof acknowledged, “I’m no expert on domestic poverty,” and then seemingly set out to prove it.
He drew a dangerous and brazen, anecdotally based conclusion that the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which benefits one of the most vulnerable populations in the country—low-income children with disabilities and their parents—must be cut and those resources diverted to early education initiatives in order to help children escape poverty. The thrust of Kristof’s argument is based on a secondhand account of parents in Appalachian Kentucky who allegedly pulled their children out of a literacy program in order to continue receiving disability benefits.
Georgetown University Law Professor Peter Edelman—who has dedicated nearly fifty years to the fight against poverty, including a poverty tour in Appalachia with Senator Robert Kennedy—writes, “The process for getting SSI is onerous. Medical professionals must submit evidence of an impairment that results in ‘marked and severe functional limitations’…. Illiteracy on its own is not sufficient to qualify, and doing well in school doesn’t mean a child will lose benefits.… We need to end child poverty. Slashing a program that is making a difference for disabled children will only make matters worse.”
James Perrin, the president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, also writes, “Poverty is the single greatest threat to children’s well-being.” He points out that as the number of children living in poverty has grown—now up to 16.1 million, or 22 percent of all children—the percentage receiving SSI “has remained constant, at about 7.5 percent.” He describes the $615 average monthly benefit as “a lifeline for low-income families caring for children with severe physical or mental disabilities.” Perrin argues that costs associated with care for these children can be “staggering” and force parents to choose between gainful employment and taking care of their children.