D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has proposed eliminating the $4.9 million interim disability assistance program (IDA) to help close a $231 million budget gap for 2003-04. This is a tragic way for the city to balance its budget.

IDA provides $239 per month to more than 800 permanently disabled adults awaiting approval for federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which can take two years or more. Narrow eligibility standards ensure that IDA goes to only the neediest people. IDA benefits help recipients pay rent and essential living expenses during this interim period.

The federal government reimburses the District for dollars spent on IDA whenever a claimant's SSI application is approved. Since IDA started a year ago with limited funds, more than 2,600 residents have sought benefits, and the city has already begun to recoup federal dollars. About 6,200 residents could qualify for a fully implemented program.

The mayor's own financial experts note that the city's budget woes stem largely from short-term economic factors. Yet they have failed to recognize that an economic downturn is precisely when programs (such as IDA) that maximize federal revenue are most needed.

IDA was sound, fiscally responsible public policy before the city's budget deficit. It still is. The mayor and council need to preserve and fund this essential investment in the dignity and independence of low-income, disabled residents.



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