The Other Welfare: Supplemental Security Income and U.S. Social Policy

By Abdullah, Alasmari | Social Development Issues, September 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Other Welfare: Supplemental Security Income and U.S. Social Policy


Abdullah, Alasmari, Social Development Issues


The Other Welfare: Supplemental Security Income and U.S. Social Policy Edward D. Berkowitz and Larry DeWitt Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, and London, 2013 ISBN-13: 978-0801451737

The eight chapters of The Other Welfare cover several aspects of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, including its initial launch, the politics surrounding the program, the effect on it of various administrations and revisions, and the prominence of the disability benefits within the program. Chapter 1, "Creating a New Welfare Program," discusses the passage of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) law in 1972, an impressive and expansive feat that fulfilled an agenda for reform that spanned two decades. The new law specified that widows' and widowers' Social Security benefits would equal 100 percent of their spouse's basic benefits, overturning a 1939 decision reflecting a reduced percentage of benefits. The law also expanded for the first time the reach of Medicare, creating coverage for Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries, as well as people with end-stage renal disease.

Chapter 2 discusses the new leadership at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), which was not sympathetic to the SSI program. This shift in leadership was occurring in the face of energy and financial crises, and Congress felt compelled to pass two key laws related to SSI before the program even took effect, given the high inflation rate. All of these factors led to problematic implementation.

Chapter 3 discusses why the program began badly. The Social Security Administration's reputation suffered in the aftermath of the SSI program's launch. The SSA's acting deputy commissioner Arthur Hess defended the SSI program, citing statistics on the $400 million in aid that was reaching the neediest citizens on a monthly basis, largely without error, and helping a much greater volume of people than the prior system involving the states had. Conservatives focused on the program's errors, making the case that the long, ambitious arm of the federal government would lead to a wasteful, corrupt use of resources, whereas liberals worried that not enough help was getting to the needy.

At first, policy makers heavily focused on a host of administrative problems associated with the SSI, such as inaccurate payments, a backlog of pending applications, and a flood of inquiries that kept the phone and office lines constantly busy. But after the first two years, it became apparent that people with disabilities were dominating the caseload. Congress, reflecting on the chaos that plagued the early years of the program and the need for more uniformity, introduced more federal oversight of the process of determining disability.

The 1984 legislation reflected the trend of disability cases dominating the rolls; it introduced procedures to protect recipients and set the stage for changes in the program's disability standards. The new law provided for quick legislative and judicial responses to claims of injustice in the review process for disability. Program administrators experienced the 1980 law as requiring them to shrink the size of the rolls, the 1984 revisions sent the opposite message, one of reliberalization.

Chapter 6 focuses on how the program expanded in a conservative age. The SSI program had entailed to that point a tightening and then loosening of restrictions affecting the disability rolls, and suddenly there was a dramatic jump in the provision of childhood disability benefits, attributable to a convergence of political factors. …

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