Modernize and Restore SSI

The Issue

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides modest financial assistance for elderly and disabled people who are unable to work and lack savings. 

The monthly federal benefit in 2021 is $794 for an individual and $1,191 for a couple, well below the federal poverty level.  Though this is not enough to cover anyone’s basic needs, additional income or assets over $2000 disqualify individuals from the program. Further, the program’s rules and requirements are so strict that they keep out many of the people the program was created to help. 


The Solution

Congress should prioritize SSI Restoration in the upcoming Budget Reconciliation.

Some key components of this Act are: 

  • The SSI benefit rate will be increased to at least 100% of the Federal Poverty Level, adjusted annually so that no one receiving SSI will be left to live below the poverty line. 

  • Couples will receive their full SSI benefit, totaling twice the individual rate, rather than a reduced marriage penalty rate.  

  • Low-income seniors and people with disabilities who can’t work enough to meet all their basic needs will be able to save up to $10,000 and couples will be able to save up to $20,000 for emergencies such as car repairs, new roofs, and other unexpected expenses, without losing benefits. 

SSI is a vital anti-poverty program. Roughly eight million of the nation’s poorest people who are elderly or disabled currently receive SSI. These are individuals with no savings and not enough work history to qualify for Social Security: LAJC’s clients include an 80-year-old great-grandmother who did not work outside the home; a 20-year-old with severe cystic fibrosis who cannot work because she needs breathing treatments throughout the day; and a 33-year-old with a traumatic brain injury that left him with tremendous student debt and an inability to work.   

SSI needs an update. Most of the SSI eligibility rules have not been updated since the program was signed into law over 40 years ago. For example, the amount of income a beneficiary is allowed to receive from other sources (such as a pension) without having their benefits reduced is $20. The cost of living today is more than 5.5 times what it was in 1972, and the asset limit for the program–$2,000–has not been updated since 1989. To prevent homelessness, hunger, and severe deprivation, the SSI program should be updated to the 21st century.  

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