Raising children is a challenge for virtually all parents. It is made harder when a parent is disabled by poor physical health, mental illness, or learning barriers. In 2008-2009, about 31,000 California parents sufficiently disabled and poor to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) were raising between them some 55,000 children with assistance from the child-only component of CalWORKs, California’s TANF program.
Drawing on data from families in San Francisco, this brief aims to help policy makers assess how adequately the combination of SSI and CalWORKs meets the needs of these particularly vulnerable families. Many of these parents received CalWORKs themselves before their disability was fully recognized and they moved to SSI. Because SSI provides a much larger parent grant than does CalWORKs, and because SSI is not time-limited, it seems that with this shift in aid families should be better off.
Under SSI, however, parents and their children are not automatically linked to social work or other services, even though the parents’ limitations are debilitating and the children are likely to be very poor for their entire childhood. The families rarely qualify for auxiliary supports such as transportation, subsidized child care, or behavioral health resources beyond Medi-Cal funded mental health or alcohol and drug services.
Additional non-financial strategies may be available to support healthy child development and adult wellbeing among SSI-parent families whose children are on CalWORKs. Since counties differ in their welfare funding, in aspects of CalWORKs program design, and in the extent and variety of resources available, the implications and conclusions to be drawn from this brief will differ from county to county. (author abstract)