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 Article of Interest - Beltway Briefs

Beltway Briefs: SSA To Update Rules For Evaluating Mental Retardation and OSEP Indicates Respite Services Not Required Under IDEA Part C

Beltway Briefs is a weekly series covering administrative activity, litigation, legislative activity, media issues, research initiatives, and national advocacy activity of interest to member state agencies. Please feel free to contact me with comments, questions, or suggestions by e-mail at or call (703) 683-4202 or fax to (703) 684-1395. I appreciate the input.
by Dan Berland, Federal Policy Analyst, March 28, 2003
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SSA To Update Rules For Evaluating Mental Retardation

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is planning to update and revise the rules it uses to evaluate “mental disorders,” including mental retardation, in both adults and children who apply for Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments based on disability. SSA's "Listing of Impairments" specifies the detailed criteria, bodily system by bodily system, that SSA uses in determining whether an applicant meets the statutory eligibility criteria to receive SSI or SSDI disability benefits. Even relatively minor changes in SSA's criteria for qualifying for SSI or SSDI benefits on the basis of mental retardation can affect whether thousands of children or adults nationwide are determined eligible to receive federal income maintenance payments. The loss of SSI eligibility means that groups of individuals may lose categorical eligibility for Medicaid benefits, meaning, for example, that states can no longer claim federal funding on their behalf if they are enrolled in a waiver program or ICF/MR services.

Before drafting any revisions, SSA is asking interested people and organizations to send them comments and suggestions for revising the rules they use to evaluate mental disorders. SSA is also interested in any ideas you have about how to improve their programs for people who have mental disorders, especially those who would like to work full-time or part-time with supports. The Social Security Administration will accept your comments online at, by e-mail to; by fax to (410) 966-2830; or by letter to the Commissioner of Social Security, PO Box 17703, Baltimore, MD 21235-7703 no later than June 16, 2003.

OSEP Indicates Respite Services Not Required Under IDEA Part C

The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has released a letter indicating that respite is not a required early intervention service under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). According to the letter, issued by OSEP Director Stephanie Lee, the term “respite,” as used in sections of Part C that list services that could be considered a necessary part of early intervention, is “not intended to mean ‘reprieve’ or ‘rest’ but rather a child care-type service provided to enable parent(s) to participate or receive other early intervention services.”

Part C of IDEA requires that appropriate early intervention services must be available to all eligible children and their families. The Part C regulations list 16 types of services included under “early intervention services,” but indicate that the list is not exhaustive, and mention “respite” as another possible component of early intervention services. According to the OSEP letter, “respite” here is not intended to serve as child-care or “baby-sitting” assistance in ordinary circumstances, but rather as in-home or other care arrangements for a child in order to allow the child’s family to participate in early intervention services that include a defined family component, such as family training or counseling services, psychological services, or social work. Lee suggests that in order for a parent to develop the capacity to assist his/her child in meeting his/her developmental needs, the parent may need respite or other type of care for the child while the parent participates in appropriate early intervention activities. Under these circumstances, the state is required to provide respite or equivalent care.

Lee also provides formal clarification as to whether states have discretion in determining what services are provided in addition to those expressly listed in Part C of IDEA. Early intervention services needed by a particular child are determined through the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) process. The letter points out that the early intervention services that meet the unique needs of a child and the supports and services necessary to enhance the family’s capacity to meet the developmental needs of the child are determined through the IFSP process. The state is required to provide any service meeting Part C’s definition of early intervention services that an IFSP indicates is necessary to meet the developmental needs of the child or the need of the family to enhance the child’s development.

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