Providing Mental Health Services to TANF Recipients: Program Design Choices and Implementation Challenges in Four States. Assistance in Applying for SSI (Supplemental Security Income)


Mental health staff may also provide assistance in applying for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) to clients with a diagnosed mental health condition that prevents them from working. In Utah, social workers coordinate psychological evaluations and walk clients through the often long and difficult application process. Assistance in applying for SSI is also extended to TANF recipients in Tennessee and parts of Oregon. Providing this kind of service requires mental health staff to act as advocates for clients and to be informed about the policies and procedures for accessing SSI. In general, mental health counselors estimate that 5 to 10 percent of the clients who are referred to mental health services may be eligible for SSI.

Types of Mental Health Conditions and Other Challenges Among Welfare Recipients

According to mental health providers, welfare recipients who participate in mental health services exhibit a wide range of mental health conditions that act as barriers to work. The most prevalent of these conditions are depression, PTSD, generalized anxiety, and adjustment disorders. A small percentage were reported as having more challenging mental health conditions such as personality disorders or psychotic disorders (e.g., schizophrenia).

In addition to these conditions, welfare clients participating in mental health services face a host of other barriers to work. For instance, mental health counselors indicated that many clients have been emotionally, physically, and/or sexually abused during childhood, or have experienced other types of major trauma. Still others face such challenges as domestic violence, low self-esteem, limited parenting skills, homelessness, lack of supportive networks (such as family or friends), and poor coping and problem-solving skills. It is unclear whether the mental health conditions are results of the families poverty and dysfunction, or whether the poverty and dysfunction are products of the mental health conditions.

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