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'Chilling' Hardship Rates among Families with Disabled Children
A disabled child has special needs
Families with disabled children are struggling to keep food on the table, a roof over their heads, and to pay for needed health and dental care. But according to a new study these challenges are now falling on middle-income households and not just on poor families.
These latest findings show that long-held federal standards for identifying the nation's poor are not capturing everyone in need and should be re-evaluated, especially for the financial effects on disabled children, said Susan L. Parish, Ph.D., the study's lead investigator and an assistant professor in the UNC School of Social Work.
"The bottom line is that U.S. families raising children with disabilities are reporting severe hardships at rates that are chilling, including families that are solidly middle-class," she said. "We were shocked to find such high rates of hardship among upper-income families."
The UNC study found that overall, families across all income levels who are raising disabled children are significantly more challenged by food, housing and health issues compared to families without disabled children. Many also struggled to pay their phone bills.
Most surprising, Parish said, was data indicating that a significant percentage of those struggling are higher-income households. Yet based on federal poverty guidelines – which have remained unchanged since the 1960s and are used to determine eligibility for many income, food, health and disability-related programs – those same households would not be classified as "poor," she said. They also would not qualify for assistance, despite the higher costs of raising children with disabilities, Parish noted. In 2002, the federal poverty level for a family of four was $18,100.
The research results offer a compelling reason to expand eligibility standards for federal programs designed to assist families with disabled children, Parish said. Though more study is needed to determine how best to assist these families, UNC researchers suggest that increasing the income limits for food stamps, housing assistance and federal Supplemental Security Income, which assists low-income people with disabilities, would probably be a good start.
REHACARE.de; Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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