Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program passed into law in the early 1970s that provides help for Americans who are disabled, blind, or elderly and living in poverty.
According to Vox, it was originally brought into existence during the Nixon Administration, as the remnant of a failed push to established a “guaranteed annual income.” The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) also came about at the same time.
The Social Security Administration administers the SSI program, and many SSI recipients also collect Social Security.
And now, there’s a push by some Democrats in Congress to shore up and increase SSI benefits.
According to Time, the push is underway to include expanded SSI benefits, the first in decades, in the reconciliation package that’s currently under consideration by the U.S. Senate.
“Disabled people and the poorest of the poor haven’t had really any help in years,” Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told Time Magazine about the push. “They’ve just been forgotten and neglected. So it’s time we do something about it.”
Brown’s plan, per Time and citing the Social Security Chief Actuary, would cost $46 billion next year.
“The pandemic has been the great revealer. It revealed wealth inequality, it revealed racial injustice, structural racism to people that weren’t paying attention,” Brown told the magazine. “It also showed that the wealthy were getting wealthier during the pandemic, while so many people are suffering. So the logical step that Congress should take is to think big about these issues, and we’re doing it.”
Back in October 2020, before the election, the Urban Institute looked at how a Biden Administration would improve funding for SSI.
“He has also proposed expanding Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federal program that provides cash benefits to low-income older adults and people with disabilities with very few financial resources,” the Institute said of Biden. "If enacted, Biden’s proposals would improve financial security for many older adults and people with disabilities and close about a quarter of Social Security’s long-term financial shortfall.”
An April op-ed in The Hill also called for increased SSI benefits.
"As a former SSI beneficiary and a former legal aid lawyer who represented people wrongfully denied SSI benefits, we know firsthand how vital the income support that SSI provides can be,” Rebecca Vallas and Matthew Cortland wrote.
“For many of the program’s roughly 8 million disabled and elderly beneficiaries, it can mean the difference between having a roof over your head and being out on the street. But we’ve also witnessed the human consequences of decades of federal neglect: SSI is now a program that consigns disabled people and seniors to abject poverty."
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.