The problem with the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is the rising number of poor and elderly people and people with disabilities that it doesn't help.
First of all, SSI's benefit falls far below today's federal poverty level. (An individual receiving the maximum benefit gets just $794 a month (in 2021), plus whatever state supplement may be available.) Moreover, SSI is not available to individuals with more than $2,000 in assets, or couples with more than $3,000, whether the sources are retirement funds, cash or investments. The limits have been set at these levels since 1989. And those who do receive SSI can lose it — and the Medicaid coverage that often goes with it — if they earn or receive more than a paltry sum that was set when SSI was established in 1972.
Senate Democrats have introduced a bill — the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act — that would bring SSI up to date, raising and linking benefits to inflation, and relaxing tight restrictions that prevent so many low-income people from participating. This marks the latest of several bills that have been introduced over the years to bring SSI up to date.
The bill, introduced June 16 by, among others, senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), would raise and index SSI to 100 percent of the poverty level.
It would also:
- Raise and index the maximum assets individuals or couples may have without disqualifying them for SSI to $10,000 and $20,000, respectively.
- Update and index SSI's income rules, allowing individuals to earn up to $399 a month from working, and up to $123 a month in assistance from other sources without being subject to a benefit reduction. Such sources could include Social Security, veterans' benefits, and pension payments.
- Eliminate benefit reductions that penalize those beneficiaries who receive in-kind help from friends or family, such as groceries or a place to stay.
Currently nearly 8 million people receive SSI, more than 6.7 million of whom are people with disabilities.
“The promise of Social Security is to ensure that no one in America should live in poverty,” Brown said in a prepared statement, “least of all our nation's seniors and people with disabilities.”