Where Does the Push to Bring SSI Benefits up to Federal Poverty Level Stand?

In June 2021, United States Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) reintroduced the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act to the Senate. The Act aims to finally overhaul the SSI program to stop “trapping” many benefit recipients in poverty.

There was a Senate subcommittee hearing in September regarding the Act, though it hasn’t made it much further through the process. In January, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) again called for the Act’s passage during a hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. We are watching to see whether the Senate will finally take action to fix the Supplemental Security Income program.

What the SSI Restoration Act Would Address

SSI provides benefits for close to 8 million seniors and disabled individuals who have limited financial resources, including more than 1 million children with disabilities. However, the program has long been ignored and neglected, leading many recipients to live in deep poverty instead of providing the financial lifeline they need to escape poverty.

The problem stems from a lack of updates to the SSI eligibility guidelines since the program was established in 1972. The same income thresholds exist from 50 years ago and have not been adjusted for inflation or any other factors in our current society.

First, the maximum benefit that someone can receive from SSI is $841 per month in 2022. This is far below the current poverty level set by the federal government. Individuals will have their benefits reduced if they earn more than $65 per month, which makes it so that most recipients have no other income sources. Since 1989, individuals cannot have more than $2,000 in assets, or couples cannot have more than $3,000 to qualify.

The SSI Restoration Act aims to relax these restrictions and link benefit levels to inflation to bring the program into the 21st century. Specifically, the Act would:

  • Increase monthly benefits to 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which would be a 31 percent increase, and index benefits to inflation.
  • Increase the asset threshold for benefit eligibility to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for couples and index it to inflation.
  • Increase income allowances before benefit reductions to $399 per month allowable earnings and $123 in allowable assistance from other benefit programs.
  • Increase benefits for married couples to twice the individual benefit rate, which eliminates a penalty for benefit recipients who want to get married.
  • End reductions in benefits if a recipient receives help from others, such as housing or groceries.

Currently, the program penalizes beneficiaries who wish to improve their lives by earning additional income, getting married, or accepting assistance from family or friends. When someone loses their SSI benefits, they often also lose their Medicaid benefits, which can be devastating.

Several Senators have cosponsored the SSI Restoration Act, including Sen. Warren, Sen. Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Sanders (D-VT), Sen. Booker (D-NJ), and Sen. Duckworth (D-IL), among others. Many advocacy groups have endorsed the bill, including AARP, Justice in Aging, AFL-CIO, Medicare Rights Center, National Center for Law & Economic Justice, National Council on Aging, and National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), just to name a few.

While the bill has seen little action so far, the Senators are pushing to gain traction and make any positive changes to the system in the coming year.

Issues for Current SSI Recipients

Many people who currently rely on SSI benefits cannot afford to pay rent in their areas. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment last year in the U.S. was $1,466, which is nearly twice the amount of the maximum SSI benefit.

Further, the current SSI program disincentivizes people from working. Some people with disabilities or elderly adults can work part-time to help support themselves, though doing so would penalize their SSI benefits. People are afraid of having their benefits reduced or facing a possible overpayment crisis, so the easier choice is not to work and to rely solely on their meager benefits.

Never Hesitate to Seek Legal Guidance

The rules of federal benefits systems are confusing, and you do not want to risk making errors that can jeopardize your eligibility. If you would like to learn about your options when it comes to SSI or SSDI, you should speak with an Orange County Social Security disability attorney right away. If changes are finally made to the SSI system, you should learn about your new rights and options so you can maximize your benefits and support your financial future.