What is the Interim Disability Assistance Program (IDA) for D.C. residents applying for SSI?

September 27, 1999

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

As you may already know, local social service providers and legal advocates have been  working for the last year to persuade District officials to restore the General Public Assistance program (GPA), which once provided interim income assistance to people applying for Supplement Security Income (SSI).

GPA gave SSI applicants modest monthly grants ($239 per month) while they were waiting for an SSI determination. This income served a critical role in helping people remain housed and in stable health until they received SSI.

GPA provided an invaluable benefit to disabled District residents. It also let the District access federal revenue in return for providing this benefit. The Social Security Administration encourages jurisdictions to offer interim assistance by allowing them to intercept the “lump sum” check applicants get when SSI is awarded. The jurisdictions can deduct the amount of interim assistance provided, and forward the remainder to the SSI recipient. In essence, jurisdictions can give people an advance loan on their SSI lump sum benefits.

Despite this win-win arrangement, the District eliminated GPA in May of 1997. The main reasons given were the need to meet the Congressional cap D.C. Department of Human Services spending, and that the District was only recovering approximately 23% of the benefits it paid out each year. Other jurisdictions operating similar programs usually budget for federal reimbursement rates of between 40% and 50%.

Over the past year, advocates and service providers have worked with members of the D.C. Income Maintenance Administration to craft a new interim assistance program with eligibility criteria and administrative mechanisms designed to maximize recovery of federal revenue. We believe that the resulting program, called “Interim Disability Assistance,” addresses the human need created by GPA’s elimination while also addressing the cost and efficiency concerns of D.C. public officials.

We are now pleased and excited to have learned that D.C. Councilmember Sandy Allen, Chair of the Human Services Committee, intends to introduce a bill this fall to establish the Interim Disability Assistance (IDA) program in Fiscal Year 2001.

If the IDA bill is to succeed, it will need support from as many quarters as possible. We are currently reaching out to make people who care about District residents with disabilities aware of this effort and to broaden the base of people who are willing to act in support of IDA.

We are asking individuals and organizations to consider one or more of the following simple steps:

  1. Sign-on to the attached statement of support for IDA (below).
  2. Write a short letter to Councilmember Allen letting her know you support her introducing IDA this fall. (See attached sample letter below). 
  3. Copy the statement of support and circulate it to other concerned individuals and organizations.
  4. If you visit members of the Council of the District of Columbia or officials in the Mayor’s office this fall, make IDA one of the things you talk about.

Please call if you have questions or would like more detailed background information about IDA. Primary points of contact are:

            R. Scott McNeilly, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, phone (202) 872-1494, fax (202) 872-1932

            T.J. Sutcliffe, So Others Might Eat, phone (202) 797-1764, fax (202) 797-1867

Thank you in advance for your support.


R. Scott McNeilly                                                         T.J. Sutcliffe

Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless                     So Others Might Eat

Interim Disability Assistance (IDA)
for D.C. Residents with Disabilities

Questions and Answers

September 1999

What is the Interim Disability Assistance program (IDA)?

IDA is a proposed program that would provide temporary income support to District residents who are unable to work due to disability and who are applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Why do we need IDA?

We need IDA because people often have to wait several months (sometimes 6 or more months) to get SSI. If they have no income to pay bills or buy basic necessities, people waiting to get SSI risk being evicted, becoming homeless, or having their health deteriorate so that they must go to the emergency room or seek inpatient care.

What benefits would the District get from IDA?

The District would prevent residents with disabilities from needing to seek out emergency shelter, emergency medical care or inpatient care while they wait for SSI. These are all very expensive – emergency shelter costs an average of $16 per day, inpatient hospitalization costs several hundred dollars per day, and even one emergency room visit can cost thousands of dollars.

The District would also get federal revenue. Because it can take a long time to get SSI, the Social Security Administration encourages jurisdictions to offer SSI applicants short term income assistance like the proposed IDA program. This is often called “interim assistance.” When someone is approved for SSI, they are eligible for payments retroactive to the date of application. So if it takes 6 months to get SSI, the person gets a “lump sum” check for all 6 months’ worth of benefits from when they applied until when they were approved. This can often be several thousand dollars. The Social Security Administration lets jurisdictions deduct the interim assistance paid during the 6 months before forwarding the remainder to the SSI recipient. In effect, the jurisdictions can loan people an advance on their lump sum SSI payments.

How many states have interim assistance programs like IDA?

34 states have interim assistance program that offer temporary income support to people with disabilities who are applying for SSI. The programs vary greatly in terms of how they are administered, who is eligible (often the programs serve many people, not just people applying for SSI), and what benefits are offered, but they all provide help to SSI applicants.

How much federal revenue do states get back for their interim assistance programs?

States with targeted programs similar to IDA usually plan in their annual budgets to recover between 40% and 50% of the benefits they pay out each year.

Why doesn’t the District have a program like IDA already?

The District used to have a program called General Public Assistance (GPA) that gave people benefits while they were waiting to get SSI, just like IDA. However, the program was eliminated in May of 1997.

Why was GPA eliminated?

GPA was one of many programs eliminated from the D.C. Department of Human Services budget at a time when the District was focusing on climbing out of years of accumulated budget deficits. The main reason given for GPA’s elimination was the need to cut Human Services spending to meet Congressionally imposed budget caps. Another reason given was that D.C. was only getting back in federal revenue 23% of the GPA benefits paid out each year. A number of administrative factors contributed to this low level of reimbursement by making GPA inefficient compared with programs run by other states.

How does IDA differ from GPA?

The proposed IDA legislation has come out of a series of conversations involving service providers, advocates and members of the Income Maintenance Administration. These individuals discussed in detail the administrative issues that would affect the program’s ability to serve SSI applicants in the most cost-efficient manner. As a result, IDA has been designed to streamline administration and maximize the District’s ability to get federal reimbursement.

How many people would IDA help?

1,600 District residents were getting GPA benefits when the program was eliminated. We cannot say for certain, but IDA would probably serve less than that number of people in its first year. Fewer people are applying for SSI now than in past recent years. Also, federal law has changed to limit SSI mostly to U.S. citizens; when GPA existed, more non-citizens could apply for SSI.

How much would IDA cost?

In Council of the District of Columbia budget hearings on the D.C. Department of Human Services budget for Fiscal Year 2000, DHS officials estimated that a GPA-type program would cost between $3 and $3.5 million in its first year. It is reasonable to anticipate that the first year would be more expensive than subsequent years, since there will be a lag time between when people start getting IDA benefits and when the District is able to recover its costs for those benefits.

Interim Disability Assistance (IDA)

for D.C. Residents with Disabilities

 Statement of Support

We believe that the District of Columbia has a fundamental responsibility to support the quality of life of people living with disabilities. Persons with disabilities who are unable to work should not have their housing, health or well being compromised simply because they are waiting to receive federal benefits in the form of Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

To address this critical problem, the District should join the overwhelming majority of states that currently provide interim income assistance to people applying for SSI. The Council of the District of Columbia, the Mayor and the Control Board should wholeheartedly support proposed legislation to create a new program, Interim Disability Assistance (IDA), to provide assistance to people with no or little income who are waiting to get SSI.

Furthermore, any revenue used to fund IDA should not take away from existing programs already serving persons with disabilities or other vulnerable populations.

We strongly recommend the creation of IDA for the benefit of District residents living with disabilities.

Sign – On for  ___ ð organization ___ ð individual only (please check one)









City, State, Zip








A list of supporters will be forwarded to the Council of the District of Columbia, the Mayor and the Control Board.

Please return by fax to T.J. Sutcliffe, So Others Might Eat, 202-797-1867 (call at 202-797-1764 for more information).

Interim Disability Assistance (IDA)

for D.C. Residents with Disabilities

----------------- SAMPLE LETTER --------------------

Date _________ , 1999 
The Honorable Sandy Allen

Council of the District of Columbia

441 4th Street, NW

Washington, DC  20001

RE:     Interim Disability Assistance (IDA)

Dear Councilmember Allen:

I am pleased to hear that you intend to introduce legislation this fall to create the Interim Disability Assistance program (IDA).

Right now, District residents with permanent disabilities have nowhere to turn for income support while they wait to get SSI. Without any income, people are at serious risk of losing their homes or seeing their health deteriorate because they are unable to meet their basic daily needs.

IDA would be an invaluable benefit to District residents with disabilities who are waiting for SSI. As you know, IDA would also cost very little money compared to the value of the help provided, since the District could get money back from the federal government whenever someone qualifies for SSI.

Please introduce IDA as soon as possible this fall so that District residents can benefit from this important program. And please let your colleagues on the Council know that you have my support. Thank you.



·        Please send this or a similar letter on your own letterhead. 

·        Please feel free to tailor the letter to include examples of how IDA would help your organization’s members, constituency or clients. 

·        Please fax a copy of your letter to T.J. Sutcliffe, So Others Might Eat, (202) 797-1867.

For more information, contact R. Scott McNeilly, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, (202) 872-1494 or T.J. Sutcliffe, So Others Might Eat, (202) 797-1764.