With legal help, quest for disability benefits for West Philly toddler continues

     Maziah Mills-Sorrells, 2, was born with a paralyzed left arm.  (Image courtesy of Essie Mills)

    Maziah Mills-Sorrells, 2, was born with a paralyzed left arm. (Image courtesy of Essie Mills)

    A 2-year-old girl whose left arm was permanently paralyzed from a birth injury is getting some legal help as her West Philadelphia parents continue to seek disability benefits for her.

    Maziah Mills-Sorrells, who has Klumpke’s paralysis, already has been denied disability benefits three times.But Community Legal Services of Philadelphia filed a complaint Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the child, arguing that her condition should qualify her for the payments.

    Her mother, Essie Mills, says she and her husband earn $17,000 a year. They struggle to pay for essentials, as well as the expenses not covered by Medicaid, she said.

    “We got an eviction notice, we have an electric notice that our electric will be shut off soon,” Mills said. “We all sleep in a one-bedroom, little apartment.”

    “It will help me basically get her clothes,” Mills said of the benefit. “She doesn’t have any clothes or shoes, or even when I want to take her little places like the circus, or out to eat or something, I will be able to do that instead of trying not paying a bill, instead of trying to not sacrifice her everyday needs.”

    Maziah should qualify for about $500 a month in disability benefits, said attorney Jonathan Stein of Community Legal Services.

    “The eligibility is both an income and a resource test, so only low-income children can qualify for SSI disability,” he said. “And then there’s an extremely strict disability test that’s similar to the test for adults, and requires children under 18 to have severe disabilities that impact their everyday functioning.”

    A representative of the Social Security Administration could not comment on the case.It’s common for initial applications to be rejected, according to Shawn Fremstad of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

    “The denial rate is extremely high in the early stages of the process. You often need to get legal representation to just be able to present your case,” he said.

    On average, Fremstad said, parents of disabled children lose $20,000 a year from uncovered expenses and missed income from having to take time off work.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal