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2012 May - June

Children's SSI Disability Benefits at Risk ... Again

By Rebecca D. Vallas & Elaine Alfano

A growing number of children receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may be at risk of unfair termination of their SSI. About 1.2 million low-income children with severe mental and physical disabilities receive SSI, keeping many of them and their families above the poverty line. “Welfare reform” and spurious allegations of false disability claims, mental disability in particular, led to the earlier narrowing of the definition of disability for children’s SSI by Congress and a significant cut in the number of child SSI recipients. Critics are again alleging SSI abuse, especially by children with mental disorders. Pressure on the Social Security Administration to sept up its continuing disability reviews may cause disability cessations for child claimants who are found to have medically improved. Advocates need to prepare to assist these claimants in keeping their SSI.

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Goldberg on Life Support at the Social Security Administration

By Gerald A. McIntyre & Rachel Gershon

The Social Security Administration commonly fails to comply with its governing regulations and with the constitutional principles set forth in Goldberg v. Kelly when it processes appeals of proposed reductions or suspensions of benefits. The agency’s handling of the first stage of appeal, requests for reconsideration, is particularly rife with due process violations. The agency also commonly mishandles disputes on overpayments and treats appeals of findings of overpayment as requests for waiver of overpayment. Advocates, too, sometimes fail to perceive the critical distinction and should take care not to confuse appeals with waiver requests.

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The Greiner Studies

Randomized Investigation of Legal Aid Outcomes

By Steven Eppler-Epstein

Although most advocates are convinced that their representation of clients makes a difference, the impact of legal assistance has seldom been tested through randomized studies. Results of three randomized studies from Massachusetts, in the areas of unemployment benefits and housing, show mixed results. Legal aid providers must be willing to challenge assumptions and learn from these and future randomized studies to achieve the greatest possible benefits for clients.

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Medicaid Preemption Remedy Survives Supreme Court Challenge

By Rochelle Bobroff

As access to federal courts narrows, Medicaid beneficiaries increasingly rely on preemption claims as the basis for litigation to challenge state laws that conflict with the Medicaid statute. In a 5-to-4 decision in Douglas v. Independent Living Center the U.S. Supreme Court, after granting certiorari on whether preemption claims confer federal jurisdiction over such Medicaid claims, ducked the question. Instead it left intact a Ninth Circuit ruling upholding a preemption claim and remanded the case for consideration under the Administrative Procedure Act. The dissenters, proposing a drastic narrowing of Ex parte Young, contend that the supremacy clause does not support private parties’ enforcement of spending clause statutes that lack an express right of action.

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The Conflict Between Advocacy and "Best Interests" for Individuals in Psychiatric Institutions

By Dari Pogach

Mental health professionals working in psychiatric institutions and lawyers representing the individuals who live in those institutions both want to help patients live the best lives possible. Because they use such different approaches to working with clients with diminished decision-making capacity, however, mental health professionals and lawyers often disagree about many aspects of patients’ treatment. Understanding why mental health professionals and lawyers approach individuals in psychiatric institutions from such different perspectives can help legal services lawyers attain better outcomes for clients with mental illness.

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Defending Junk-Debt-Buyer Lawsuits

By Peter A. Holland

The avalanche of lawsuits filed by junk-debt buyers has been a burden on consumers and the courts alike. Many defendants facing these cases do not have the benefit of counsel. Legal aid attorneys who want to help low-income clients fight these cases are overwhelmed by the wealth backing the junk-debt industry. Understanding that industry and applying a few litigation pointers can turn any advocate into a secret weapon against unscrupulous debt buyers.

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Integrating People with Disabilities in the Community Through Innovative Collaboration

By Barry C. Taylor

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Olmstead v. L.C. in 1999, but Illinois was slow to integrate people with disabilities into the community and out of institutions. A unique collaboration of public interest organizations and pro bono law firms filed three class actions to spur Illinois to make systemic changes in community integration for people with disabilities.

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