An independent federal agency says that the government’s failure to update asset limits associated with Supplemental Security Income and other programs is leaving people with disabilities in a tough spot.

For decades, asset limits for government benefit programs have gone unchanged even as the cost of living has risen. As a result, individuals with disabilities are often hampered in their efforts to become more independent, according to a new report from the National Council on Disability, which is charged with advising the president and Congress on disability issues.

“As asset and income limits haven’t been scaled to inflation or revised even a penny in 34 years, it means people with disabilities have been forced, by federal policy, to be poorer and poorer, year over year, to qualify for critical supports and services,” said Theo Braddy, a member of the council. “Federal disability policies should be about helping people live independently, get to work and get out of poverty. The current asset and income limits ensure the opposite.”

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For the report, NCD conducted a systematic review of federal and select state policies and held focus groups with self-advocates, family members, service providers, policymakers and other stakeholders in the disability community.

Chiefly, asset limits come into play for those receiving SSI who are allowed to have no more than $2,000 in resources at any given time. Often, maintaining SSI eligibility is key to accessing Medicaid. In addition, the report notes that getting married can alter an individual’s access to needed benefits.

NCD found that while government programs are crucial to helping people offset the added expenses that come with having disabilities, the current system is stifling.

“People with disabilities will not achieve economic self-sufficiency if the supports and services they often rely upon to be independent prevent them from being sufficiently employed for fear of losing those services — an untenable catch-22,” said NCD Chairman Andrés Gallegos.

The report recommends that Congress eliminate or modify SSI income and asset limits while simplifying the program’s rules and reporting requirements. In addition, NCD is urging changes to Medicaid and other programs.

Lawmakers have been pushing in recent years to update SSI’s asset limits, but so far, legislation has failed to advance.

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