4,000 children in Md. due renewed disability claims


More than 4,000 Maryland families with disabled children who were denied Social Security disability benefits in the 1980s will be notified this week that they may apply to reopen their cases because of a Supreme Court ruling.

In March, the court ordered the Social Security Administration to review such cases under new regulations that add disabilities not previously covered. About 452,000 children nationwide were denied benefits under the government's Supplemental Security Income program and could be entitled to as much as 10 years of back financial assistance.

The SSI program provides basic financial support for low-income families with disabled children. Eligible children can receive up to $407 a month, depending on family income.

Social Security officials said they will begin to mail notices today to families who were denied such assistance from January 1980 to February 1990. If found eligible, they will be paid the total amount they would have received, even if the children are now adults.

Social Security estimates it will pay out $2 billion in retroactive benefits nationally over the next five years. Administrative costs for the cases will be an estimated $232 million, and related Medicaid payments will total as much as $1 billion.

In the case that went before the Supreme Court -- Sullivan vs. Zebley -- Maryland joined 26 other states and the District of Columbia in arguing that Social Security used overly restrictive and obsolete standards to evaluate eligibility for the SSI benefits.

Because the agency based its evaluations on a list of conditions rather than assessing children's disabilities individually, those conditions such as Down's syndrome, muscular dystrophy and acquired immune deficiency syndrome were not included in the benefits, said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

David W. Richardson, district manager in Social Security's Baltimore office, said the original evaluation criteria were necessarily too restrictive. "The court interprets the law," he said, "and we're implementing the court's decision. . . . This is simply a change in the way cases are considered, medically. We've always tried to reach anybody potentially eligible."

It is particularly important for those who think they might be affected to have their cases reassessed, since children eligible for as little as $1 a month in benefits also qualify for free health care through the Medicaid program, Mr. Richardson said.

People who think they are eligible should contact one of the 22 local Social Security offices or call the national office at (800) 234-5772.

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