By Terretta Jones, HeLP Clinic Spring 2017 Intern

During my time in the Health Law Partnership (HeLP) Legal Services Clinic, I have mainly worked on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cases for children.  For a child to qualify for SSI benefits, the family must have limited income and resources. The child also has to meet certain criteria set out by the Social Security Administration (SSA) demonstrating marked and severe functional limitations.  If it is determined that the child qualifies for SSI benefits, their case will routinely be evaluated to determine whether the benefits should continue.

The HeLP Clinic at the College of Law plays an important role in helping families who have been denied SSI benefits, or who have received benefits only to later be informed that the benefits would be terminated.  These cases have time-sensitive deadlines that, if not strictly followed, could lead to the family not receiving any benefits.  Specifically, if the family receives a letter stating that their child no longer qualifies for SSI benefits, they have only ten days to file an appeal from when they received the notice to continue receiving their benefits.  The family can still file an appeal after the ten days, but then their benefits will likely be suspended until a final decision is made, which can take over a year.

In my experience, the family is usually confused and upset after receiving a denial or termination notice.  They interpret the letter as stating that their child is not sick.  I have had to explain to the parents that the determination does not mean that, but rather that the SSA does not believe that the child meets the specific criteria in order to receive SSI benefits. The SSA’s criteria are restrictive.  For example, one of the criteria might be a number of hospitalizations within a three-month period.

Even if a child does not meet the criteria of the SSA’s listings, SSA will still consider other evidence on how the child is functionally impaired. I have explained to the parents that our role, therefore, is to look at all of the evidence and make the best argument as to why the child qualifies for the SSI benefits.  We look at both medical records and school records.

As a law student in the HeLP Clinic, we are fortunate to work with experienced attorneys, social work students, and medical students. These are valuable resources that would not be available to the average person. I believe it would be very challenging for a person to fight a case effectively with limited income and resources as required in order to receive SSI benefits. Given the low incomes of our client base, the outcomes of these cases can have a significant impact on their future.

We are in a unique position where we are able to collaborate with each other, drawing on different expertise, to best assist our clients. The HeLP Clinic is a great resource for families with medically fragile children. I believe that helping these families benefits our society in the long run because the parent is getting assistance, which reduces their mental and emotional stress.