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Republican Proposal Will Harm
Disabled Children in Low Income Families: A Call to Action
By: Stewart L. Cohen, Esquire*

Among the first initiatives of the newly elected Republican Congress and President Trump is to convert Medicaid and SSI to ‘block grants”. This may sound harmless enough, but it is not. These proposals will slash the minimal benefits provided to disabled children in low income families, and if this becomes law these children will be left at risk for their very lives.

Medicaid is a jointly funded, Federal-State health insurance program for low-income children, the aged, blind, and/or disabled. Medicaid is an “open ended” program that provides minimum benefits, where for example if more people become eligible the state will receive more money. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a type of Social Security benefit administered by federal government that helps children with serious disabilities.

The Republican plan is to replace current Medicaid and SSI benefits with a fixed (and reduced) amount of federal money in the form of so called “block grants”. This proposal will directly affect the daily lives of the most severely disabled children in the lowest income families by reducing services and assistance. The politicians will debate: how much less money will each state receive; how allotments will be adjusted — for population changes, for increases in medical prices, for inflation, for new drugs and treatments; and whether the federal government will require states to cover certain populations and services; and so on. But this debate will entirely miss the point.

These program cuts are targeted at the lowest income families, and the sickest among us. Our elected officials must discuss the facts of life and death–which is that poor families with disabled children cannot survive without these minimum benefit programs being kept in place. To qualify for SSI, recipients must meet strict medical criteria and have very low income and assets. The average SSI benefit for a disabled child is only $650 per month. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, without SSI benefits most SSI families with a disabled child would be below the poverty level; and that SSI particularly reduces “deep poverty”— defined as income below 50% of the poverty line. These proposed changes can lead to children being at risk to not receive medically necessary care and treatment.

Here are some of the harmful aspects of “block grants”:

1. States Will Lose Billions in Federal Funding. Block grants are designed to save federal dollars, by giving states less federal funding then they receive under current programs. Over time states would lose billions of dollars in federal funding, forcing them to spend more state money, slash program benefits, and/or make eligibility stricter. Further, block grants will decrease in value over time leaving states with less federal dollars to spend on those families who need the most help.

2. States Will be Forced to Limit Benefits. The federal government reimburses the states for most of these program costs (currently it funds SSI benefits directly) using uniform national standards. If block grants replace the current programs, states will necessarily be required to limit benefits for needy families to make ends meet. States will be forced to establish more stringent eligibility requirements; establish waiting lists or cap enrollment; limit lifesaving benefits; or create administrative barriers to coverage, which currently are not allowed, like unaffordable Medicaid premiums, or work requirements for even the sickest recipients. In short, block grants will require States to become as stingy as possible to stretch block grants further.

3. States Can Divert Block Grant Money to Plug State Budget Gaps. Block grants allow state legislatures to direct block grant funds to be used to plug holes in the state budget or fund pet projects, even if they are related only in a limited way to the needs of the families they are supposed to serve. For example, consider what Michigan did with federal money intended to provide assistance to low income families, which resulted in scholarship money being paid to higher-income family. Michigan used federal funds from a separate program called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which is a state-administered federal program that was supposed to provide poor families with financial assistance, such as childcare assistance, job preparation, and work assistance. Block grants will allow states to divert funds from the families with the most urgent needs. See Marketplace.org, Your State on Welfare, (June 2016), available at http://features.marketplace.org/yourstateonwelfare/.

4. Block Grants Fail to Adequately Provide for an economic “Crisis”. With block grants, states do not get needed additional federal funding if demand rises during an economic crisis. Families who face job loss or other financial emergencies are not guaranteed access to block grant benefits during the time that they are trying to get back on their feet. Although some Federal proposals would allow block grants to increase if unemployment rates rise, experts say that these proposals do not include workable formulas that are certain to help families in need. See, e.g., Robert Greenstein, Ctr. On Budget and Policy Priorities, Commentary: Ryan “Opportunity Grant” Proposal Would Likely Increase Poverty and Shrink Resources for Poverty Programs Over Time (July 2014), available at http://www.cbpp.org/commentary-ryan-opportunity-grant-proposal-would-likely-increase-poverty-and-shrink-resources-for.

And now the call to action. This is a Republican plan, and it is predicted the votes to enact this plan will be strictly along party lines. Accordingly, Republican votes will be needed to stop “block grants”. If you wish to oppose this plan, write to your local Republican elected officials and tell them that you oppose “block grant” funding to provide benefits to the low income, disabled children on Medicaid.

*Stewart Cohen is a trial lawyer at the law firm of Cohen. Placitella & Roth, P. C. where he has worked relentlessly as an advocate on behalf of his clients for over thirty years. Mr. Cohen focuses his practice on complex civil litigation, including representation of severely disabled children. His firm has offices throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and he can be reached at scohen@cprlaw.com.


You can contact your Pennsylvania Republican Senator at:

Republican Senator Pat Toomey
248 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-4254
8 Penn Center
1628 JFK Boulevard, # 1702
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Phone: (215) 241-1090

You can contact your Pennsylvania Republican Congressmen at:

Representative Mike Kelly
1707 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-5406
Fax: (202) 225-3103
208 E. Bayfront Parkway, Suite 102
Erie, PA 16507
Phone: (814) 454-8190
Fax: (814) 454-8197

Representative Scott Perry
1207 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-5836
Fax: (202) 226-1000
22 Chambersburg Street
Gettysburg, PA 17325
Phone: (717)338-1919
Fax: (717) 334-6314

Representative Glenn Thompson
124 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-5121
Fax: (202) 225-5796
3555 Benner Pike, Suite 10 1
Bellefonte, PA 16823
Phone: (814) 353-0215
Fax: (814) 353-0218

Representative Ryan Costello
326 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-4315
21 West Market Street, Suite 105
West Chester, PA 19382
Phone: (610) 696-2982
Fax: (610) 696-2985

Representative Patrick Meehan
2305 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2011
Fax: (202) 226-0280
940 West Sproul Road
Springfield, PA 19064
Phone: (610) 690-7323
Fax: (610) 690-7329

Representative Brian Fitzpatrick
514 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-4276
1717 Langhorne-Newtown Road
Suite 400
Langhorne, PA 19047
Phone: (215) 579-8102
Fax: (215) 579-8109

Representative Bill Shuster
2079 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2431
Fax: (202) 225-2486
310 Penn Street, Suite 200
Hollidaysburg, PA 16648
Phone: (800) 854-3035
Fax: (814) 696-6726

Representative Tom Marino
2242 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-3731
Fax: (202) 225-9594
543 Easton Turnpike
Suite 101
Lake Ariel, PA 18436
Phone: (570) 689-6024
Fax: (570) 689-6028

Representative Lou Barletta
2049 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6511
Toll-free: (855) 241-5144
Fax: (202) 226-6250
126 N. Hanover Street
Carlisle, P A 17013
Phone: (717) 249-0190
Fax: (717) 218-0190

Representative Keith Rothfus
1205 Longworth Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2065
Fax: (202) 225-5709
6000 Babcock Boulevard
Suite 104
Pittsburgh, P A 15327
Phone: (412) 837-1361
Fax: (412) 593-2022

Representative Charles Dent
2082 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6411
Fax: (202) 226-0778
3900 Hamilton Boulevard, Suite 207
Allentown, PA 18103
Phone: (610) 770-3490
Fax: (610) 770-3498

Representative Lloyd Smucker
516 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2411
51 South Duke Street
Suite 201
Lancaster, P A 17602
Phone: (717) 393-0667
Toll-free: 1-888-217-0231

Representative Tim Murphy
2332 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2301
Fax: (202) 225-1844
504 Washington Road
Pittsburgh, P A 15228
Phone: (412) 344-5583
Fax: (412) 429-5092

You can contact your New Jersey Republican Congressmen at:

Representative Frank LoBiondo
2427 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6572
Fax: (202) 225-3318
5914 Main Street Suite 103
Mays Landing, NJ 08330-1746
Phone: (800) 471-4450 or (609) 625-5008
Fax: (609) 625-5071

Representative Tom MacArthur
506 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-4765
Fax: (202) 225-0778
Gibson House Community Center
535 East Main Street
Marlton, NJ 08053
Phone: (856) 267-5182
Fax: (856) 574-4697
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 122, Marlton, NJ 08053

Representative Chris Smith
2373 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-3765
Fax: (202) 225-7768
Monmouth County Constituent Services Center
112 Village Center Drive, Second Floor
Raintree Shopping Center
Freehold, NJ 07728
Phone: (732) 780-3035
Fax: (732) 780-3079

Representative Leonard Lance
2352 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-5361
Fax: (202) 225-9460
361 Route 31, Unit 1400
Flemington, NJ 08822
Phone: (908) 788-6900
Fax: (908) 788-2869

Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen
2306 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-3011
Phone: (202) 225-5034
30 Schuyler Place, Second Floor
Morristown, NJ 07960
Phone: (973) 984-0711

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