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Where the push to bring Supplemental Security Income benefits up to federal poverty level stands

  August 11, 2021 | By Lorie Konish, CNBC

Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C., have touted a $3.5 trillion spending package aimed at helping to fight poverty.

Yet initial drafts have not included proposed reforms to enhance Supplemental Security Income — also known as SSI — that provides benefits to elderly, blind and disabled Americans.

Still, advocates have not given up hope that the changes will make it into the package as part of ongoing negotiations.

That includes Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who in June led the reintroduction of a Senate proposal called the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act.

“SSI has been forgotten by Washington for years — I am pushing my colleagues to make sure that doesn’t happen again this time,” Brown said in a statement Tuesday. “I’m fighting to secure updates to the program, and this reconciliation bill is our chance to get this done.”

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are among the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors. Another version of the proposal has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.

The goal is to bring aspects of SSI — some of which have not been changed since the 1980s — up to date.

In 2021, the maximum monthly SSI benefit is $794 per individual, or $1,191 per married couple where both individuals qualify for the program.

Those benefits are altered every year with the annual cost-of-living adjustment set by the Social Security Administration.

Still, those maximum benefit amounts are below the federal poverty level. The Senate bill calls for raising monthly benefits to 100% of the federal poverty level — which would result in a 31% increase — and indexing them to inflation.

In addition, it also calls for updating rules that have been in place for decades.

Today, individuals can only have $2,000 in assets in order to qualify for the program, while married couples can have up to $3,000. Those thresholds have not been updated since 1989.

The Senate bill calls for updating those caps to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for couples.

The bill also seeks to update SSI’s income rules, which have never been changed since the program was created in 1972. Currently, for every $2 someone earns over $65, they lose $1 of SSI benefits.

“The people who receive SSI essentially get a 50% tax on their income above $65,” said Stacy Braverman Cloyd, director of policy and administrative advocacy at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives.

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