Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides modest financial assistance for people who are unable to work enough to meet their basic needs. A 70-year-old woman who worked in “off the books” domestic jobs her whole life, or a younger person with a disability that makes it impossible to work enough hours to pay for rent, food, and other necessities. While SSI is meant to help people in great need, the application process is strict and complicated. In addition, many of the SSI program rules haven’t been updated in more than 40 years, and can make people’s financial problems even worse. If a person has even $1 more in their bank account than the $2,000 resource limit, their application will be denied or current benefits taken away entirely.
Census Data Shows Deep Poverty Persists
The Census Supplemental Poverty Measure data released yesterday showed that over 42 million people, including 7.1 million older adults, are living in poverty in this country, and many more are financially vulnerable. As people age or experience significant disabilities that make them unable to work, millions rely on SSI to avoid falling into deep poverty. Unfortunately, SSI is currently keeping out the people who need it most because of outdated rules and eligibility requirements. We have an opportunity to improve the program so that it can reach the people it was designed to help.
The SSI Restoration Act of 2019
Today Reps Raúl Grijalva and Elissa Slotkin introduced the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act. This legislation would modernize SSI rules and requirements that haven’t been changed for decades. In addition to raising the $2,000 resource limit, for example, the Act would increase the amount of income a person could keep from sources like Social Security. Currently, people receiving SSI are not allowed to keep more than $20 of income they receive from Social Security. This means older adults receiving SSI and Social Security (over half of all older SSI recipients) would be able to use more of their limited Social Security income to supplement their SSI benefit. The bill would also make improvements such as removing a marriage penalty so that couples could receive their full SSI benefit rather than a reduced amount, and eliminate benefit reductions that occur when people are able to live with others to save money.
Improvements such as these are important to fulfilling SSI’s goal of helping those most in need who would not otherwise have enough income to get by. We support this legislation because it will ensure that, rather than keeping people out of the program because of outdated restrictions, we will be able to provide support to those who need it.