Supplemental Security Income In the 116th CongressNovember 6, 2019
By Zachary Tashman
The SSI Program
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was established in 1972 under Title 16 of the Social Security Act. The stated goal of SSI was to improve economic conditions for older adults and people with disabilities. The SSI program supplies monthly cash assistance for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. To be eligible for SSI benefits, recipients must meet all of the following requirements:
- Be 65 years or older or have a disability;
- Have “limited” income and assets;
- Be a U.S. citizen or meet certain requirements if not one; and
- Reside in one of the 50 states, D.C., or the Northern Mariana Islands.
Other eligibility considerations include marital status and monthly income.
SSI is a mandatory spending program that is not subject to the normal appropriations process.
As of June, 8.1 million Americans were SSI recipients. Approximately 1.1 million beneficiaries were children, while 2.2 million were older adults. Notably, the amount of people served by SSI has steadily reduced due to outdated eligibility requirements and other factors.
Most of the program’s eligibility requirements have not been updated to keep pace with inflation since 1972. For instance, the amount of income a beneficiary is allowed to receive from other sources (such as a pension) without having their benefits cut was set at $20 per month. The cost of living today is more than 500 percent higher than what it was in 1972, meaning that $20 in 2019 is equivalent to approximately $3.25 in 1972. In the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984, Congress set the SSI resource limit eligibility to $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for couples for every year after 1989. Over the subsequent thirty years, the cost of living has more than doubled; yet these caps have remained.
Additionally, a cap on financial assistance from sources such as family members and charitable organizations disproportionately impacts people who are unable to care for themselves or work, such as individuals with severe intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Legislation in the 116th Congress
In September, Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) reintroduced the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act (H.R.4280), which would strengthen the Supplemental Security Income program by raising the asset limit. It would also revise several provisions related to program eligibility. The bill would alleviate structural problems in SSI by linking these revisions to future cost of living increases.
Notable provisions in H.R. 4280 would:
- Allow beneficiaries up to $10,000 ($20,000 for couples) in savings without losing eligibility;
- Increase the amount of disregarded income one can receive without a corresponding loss in benefits;
- Ensure that no one is penalized for getting married or choosing to live with family members; and
- Exclude state and local earned income tax credits and child tax credits from income calculations.
On October 30th, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced Senate Companion legislation (S. 2753).
The legislation would allow older adults and people with disabilities to save for emergencies, healthcare, housing, and other basic needs, and increase well-being for all members of our communities.
The Supplemental Security Income program has been a vital tool in combating poverty and promoting financial security for older Americans and people with disabilities. The National Assembly supports H.R. 4280 because it will increase access to the SSI program, which provides services and supports that help all members of our communities thrive.
The National Assembly will continue to closely track the issue. For more information on Federal legislation impacting the human service sector, check out PolicySource. For more information on legislation impacting SSI, contact Zachary Tashman at Ztashman@nassembly.org.