Denial of Social Security Benefits Perpetuates Homelessness
Application Process Inefficient, Limits Access
Press Type: Press Release Associated Program: Housing
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A report released today by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty shows that bureaucratic barriers are preventing thousands of homeless Americans from accessing Social Security disability benefits that could help them get off the street.
Social Security benefits, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), are critical to keeping people with disabilities in stable housing through income support and health services. Unfortunately, the application process is cumbersome and freezes out many eligible homeless people. While up to 40 percent are potentially eligible due to physical or mental disability, only 14 percent actually receive benefits.
One key barrier is the severe restriction on the types of health care workers who can provide a medical diagnosis. Most health clinics for homeless people are staffed by non-doctors, such as nurse practitioners and physician's assistants. As a result, homeless people's disability claims lack accepted medical evidence and are not approved -- perpetuating homelessness.
"It's unfortunate that bureaucratic red tape prevents thousands of people from quickly accessing services they need to stay off the street," said Jeremy Rosen, policy director at the Law Center and a co-author of the report. "By making the process to obtain benefits simpler, we could bring more people into the program and improve efficiency."
Only allowing a doctor's diagnosis is meant to prevent fraud and ensure only eligible individuals can access benefits. But according to Improving Access, this approach is inefficient and unnecessary. There are 38 percent more nurse practitioners and physician's assistants practicing primary care today than there are doctors, and their licensing and education requirements are stringent.
Moreover, increasing access to disability benefits -- and thus permanent housing and supportive services -- saves money otherwise spent on expensive hospitalizations and emergency room visits. According to Improving Access, homeless people who enter supportive housing have 77 percent fewer inpatient hospitalizations and 62 percent fewer emergency room visits.
"In essence, the current policy causes long delays for homeless people while also wasting government resources," Rosen said. "Letting these other highly-trained professionals provide a diagnosis is a common sense solution for everyone involved."
"As part of its strategic plan to end and prevent homelessness, the Obama Administration has set a goal of ending chronic homelessness, which typically includes people with disabilities," added Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the Law Center. "This report further confirms the need for urgent action, and recommends specific steps that would make a tremendous difference in meeting that goal."
Improving Access is co-authored by Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, one of the nation's leading firms on health care law and a pro bono partner of the Law Center.
William Bernstein, chair of Manatt's national healthcare practice, remarked that Manatt's and the Law Center's months of research and analysis shows "that the changes recommended in the report are necessary to ensure homeless and low-income Americans are not left waiting for critical care and benefits."
Manatt's Anne Karl, who directed its work on the report, added: "The health clinics that provide services at low or no cost are typically staffed by trained and talented, yet non-physician, providers. As this report demonstrates, doors can and should be opened for those individuals currently stuck in the administrative waiting room."
To read the full report, click here.
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The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is a leader in the movement to end and prevent homelessness. It works to achieve its goals through advocacy, public education, and impact litigation.