Increasing Access to Services for Older Youth with Disabilities

Emerging Leader Fellow: Claire Grandison, 2014-2015
 

The Problem:

In recent years, the Social Security Administration has been aggressively reviewing and too often terminating Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to older youth just as they are transitioning to adulthood. In 2012, 71 percent of teenagers receiving SSI in Pennsylvania lost their benefits upon turning 18 – a total of 4,109 young people. Frequently, these teens have a combination of learning disabilities and mental illness that makes finding work difficult, and Philadelphia’s high youth unemployment rate of nearly 30 percent creates additional barriers. However, upon completing high school, these young people are effectively denied assistance from almost every agency that should be serving them. For these youth to transition off SSI and into independent living, they need access to the educational and vocational supports that will allow them to do so.

The Approach:

At Community Legal Services, Claire worked to understand how these barriers for older youth with disabilities could be overcome and to ensure they have access to critical income, social services, vocational training, and workforce placement supports. Throughout her fellowship, Claire researched legislation and past cases; conducted interviews with teens and advocates; represented clients in disability hearings; conducted trainings for vocational rehabilitation counselors and other service providers; and met with state and federal agency staff to advocate for policy reforms.

Recommendations:

Claire found that addressing these barriers will require: correctly enforcing existing legal rules that recognize the unique developmental needs of young adults; increasing interagency collaboration and policy alignment to ensure youth continue to qualify for SSI benefits and services as they transition out of high school; and helping teens and their families understand the SSI process so they can better prepare for review of their cases and advocate for themselves.

Claire and Community Legal Services put together a number of tools to help teenagers and their families understand how to prepare for the age-18 review and what to do if SSI benefits are cut off. Watch their video below, and access factsheets and more information at Community Legal Services' website