Hopes Run High For SSI Overhaul
As federal lawmakers put together a $3.5 trillion budget bill, there are expectations that it could bring major changes to the Supplemental Security Income program for the first time in decades.
There is pressure in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to include improvements to the SSI program in the reconciliation package that’s in the works. That could mean growing the program’s benefits and increasing the asset limit — which has gone unchanged since 1984 — among other tweaks.
Updates to the program cannot come soon enough, said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
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“SSI has been forgotten by Washington for years — I am pushing my colleagues to make sure that doesn’t happen again this time,” Brown told Disability Scoop. “I’m fighting to secure updates to the program, get this done. Fixing this antiquated program could change millions of lives and is our best opportunity to right the wrongs of decades of neglect.”
Currently, eight million Americans receive SSI benefits, including many with disabilities. Individuals get a maximum federal payment of $794 per month from the program while couples can see up to $1,191 per month, though some states add to these figures. In order to remain eligible, individual beneficiaries can have no more than $2,000 to their names and couples are limited to $3,000 in assets at any given time.
As a candidate, President Joe Biden supported several changes to the SSI program including growing benefits to at least the federal poverty level, raising the asset limit and eliminating penalties for marrying or receiving what’s known as in-kind support, which is when a friend or family member helps pay for rent, food or other things. That has proponents of change optimistic.
Earlier this month, the Senate approved a broad plan outlining priorities for the reconciliation bill. But, the details are still very much in flux, advocates say.
“We are hoping to see some very, very long overdue improvements to SSI in the package,” said Bethany Lilly, senior director of income policy at The Arc. “There definitely is interest and support, but there are a lot of things that have interest and support, so it’s making sure that the voices of people with disabilities are heard.”