Bipartisan Bill Aims to Give Supplemental Security Income an Upgrade

Bipartisan Bill Aims to Give Supplemental Security Income an Upgrade

Neglected for years, an improved Supplemental Security Income program could give much-needed support to elderly and disabled Americans.

Two senators from Ohio, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman, are seeking to update the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program’s rules on how much money beneficiaries can have set aside and still be deemed eligible. 

As reported by CNBC, the senators’ bill, called the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act, “would enable beneficiaries to have more savings in case of an emergency without affecting their benefits.”

Currently, individuals who qualify for SSI benefits are limited to $2,000 in assets, while for married couples, it is $3,000. The bill aims to adjust those caps, which have not changed since 1989, to $10,000 and $20,000 respectively.

“It doesn’t make sense for SSI’s rules to punish Americans for saving for emergencies,” Brown noted in a statement.

“Our bipartisan bill would update the outdated rules for the first time in decades and allow beneficiaries to save for emergencies without putting the benefits they rely on to live at risk,” he continued.

A report from the J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Policy Center shared similar sentiments.

“The SSI program should be updated and reformed to incentivize individuals with disabilities who are able to work to seek employment without the risk of losing their economic security,” it wrote.

“Promising proposals call for raising monthly SSI benefits to 100 percent of the federal poverty level and boosting asset limits to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for couples and families with disabled children, updating outdated income rules for inflation, and eliminating the penalty for married couples. … A reformed SSI program would play a crucial role in expanding economic opportunity and mobility for people with disabilities,” the report added.

According to Jonathan Stein, general counsel at Community Legal Services, and David A. Weaver, an economist and retired federal employee who has authored a number of studies on the Social Security program, the Social Security Administration (SSA) “needs a major retooling of its applications processes, which currently include a twenty-three-page SSI application that can be incomprehensible even for social service professionals.”

In an op-ed for The Hill, they wrote that “it should also address the long-standing absence of an online application for all SSI applicants.”

“SSA also has very limited criteria for streamlined eligibility determinations for people who clearly have significant disabilities. These ‘presumptive’ disability rules should be expanded, for example, to provide allowances to people who are unhoused and who have significant behavioral health diagnoses.”

First created by Congress in 1972, SSI provides a maximum monthly benefit of $841 per eligible individual and $1,261 for couples. However, the average monthly benefit for all recipients as of March 2022 is $625.50.

Many of the people receiving the benefits are living under or close to the federal poverty level, which, in 2022, is $13,590 in annual income for individuals. According to the SSA, “it is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income.”

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Image: Reuters.