Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2008. Legislative Changes


Public Law 104-121, the Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996, prohibited SSI eligibility to individuals whose drug addiction and/or alcoholism (DA&A) is a contributing factor material to the finding of disability.  This provision applied to individuals who filed for benefits on or after the date of enactment (March 29, 1996) and to individuals whose claims were finally adjudicated on or after the date of enactment.  It applied to current beneficiaries on January 1, 1997.

PRWORA made several changes designed to maintain the SSI program’s goal of limiting benefits to severely disabled children.   First, the act replaced the former “comparable severity” test with a new definition of disability specifically for children, based on a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that results in “marked and severe functional limitations.” Second, SSA discontinued use of the Individualized Functional Assessment (IFA) for children which it had implemented in 1991 following the Supreme Court's decision in Sullivan v Zebley, 493 U.S. 521 (1990).1 Third, references to “maladaptive behaviors” in certain sections of the Listing of Impairments (among medical criteria for evaluation of mental and emotional disorders in the domain of personal/behavioral function) were eliminated.  The latter two provisions were effective for all new and pending applications upon enactment (August 22, 1996).  Beneficiaries who were receiving benefits due to an IFA or under the Listings because of limitations resulting from maladaptive behaviors received notice no later than January 1, 1997, that their benefits might end when their case was redetermined. Additional provisions of PRWORA with impact on enrollment are the requirement that eligibility be redetermined when beneficiaries reach age 18, using the adult disability standard; that "continuing disability reviews" be done for children; and that children who were eligible due to low birth weight have their eligibility redetermined at age one.

Title IV of Public Law 104-193 (PRWORA) also made significant changes in the eligibility of noncitizens for SSI benefits.  Some of the restrictions were subsequently moderated by Public Law 104-208, Public Law 106-169, and most notably by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-33), which “grandfathered” immigrants who were receiving SSI at the time of enactment of the PRWORA.  Those immigrants who entered the U.S. after August 22, 1996, may be eligible to receive SSI after having been “lawfully admitted for permanent residence.”  In addition, Public Law 106-386, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, provides that noncitizens who are victims of “severe forms of trafficking in persons in the United States” shall be treated as refugees for purposes of SSI and be eligible for SSI benefits for the first 7 years they are in the United States.

Several provisions aimed at reducing SSI fraud and improving recovery of overpayments were enacted in 1999 as part of the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-169). Other legislation enacted in 1999 (Public Law 106-170) provides additional work incentives for disabled beneficiaries of SSI (e.g., the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program).

The Social Security Protection Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-203), enacted March 2, 2004, introduced program and beneficiary protections covering the use of representative payees and required documentation of changes in beneficiary status.  It also extended SSI eligibility to blind or disabled children living with a parent assigned to permanent U.S. military duty outside of the U.S. but who were not receiving SSI while in the U.S.  Furthermore, Public Law 109-163 provides that individuals who were made ineligible for SSI because of their spouses or parents being called to active military duty would not have to file a new application for SSI benefits if they again could be eligible for benefits before the end of 24 consecutive months of ineligibility.

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-171) included two SSI program reforms, designed to improve the accuracy of disability determinations and benefit awards, among other program goals.

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