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As SSI Celebrates 50 Years, Major Updates Are Needed

  October 28, 2022

This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), SSI is a vital lifeline for older Americans and people with disabilities that helps them put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads by providing modest income support.

The maximum monthly benefit amount that participants will receive next year is $914, an 8.7 percent increase that resulted from the SSA’s recently announced COLA adjustment. While SSI recipients will cheer the change in benefits, there are other critical provisions in the program that are grossly outdated and need to be revised.

Perhaps the most harmful of these provisions for SSI recipients is the limit on the maximum allowable level of assets. Individuals cannot have more than $2,000 in savings to qualify for the program. The limit for couples is $3,000.

These amounts were last changed in 1989 despite a nearly 240% increase in inflation from 1989 to 2021. Looking back further, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that if the asset limits had been properly adjusting for inflation since the program’s inception in 1972, they would now stand at $9,000 for individuals and $13,500 for couples.

Rather than lifting people from poverty as the program was intended to do, the asset limits, minimal benefits and other provisions are resulting in driving many SSI recipients into poverty, unable to afford essential items and fearful that even the slightest change in their situation could impact or eliminate their benefits.

NOSSCR has joined with other organizations to support legislation that will modernize the SSI program. This includes working to pass the SSI Restoration Act as well as advocating for program improvements in the FY23 spending bill that Congress must address in December.

As our nation recognizes the anniversary of this historic program, we must leverage the added attention it will receive to strengthen its adequacy for older Americans and people with disabilities, fulfilling the vision President Richard Nixon had when he signed the bill into law 50 years ago.

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