Washington, DC – The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was designed to combat poverty among people with disabilities, but the program’s outdated rules do just the opposite—forcing people to live in poverty to qualify for monthly assistance. Today, The Arc celebrates the introduction of the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Representative Brian Higgins (D-NY), and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). This bipartisan bill, which is also supported by over 370 organizations, makes long-overdue reforms to the SSI program that would empower millions of people with disabilities to earn and save more money for their futures.
The SSI program was established 50 years ago and provides critical benefits to over 7.5 million people with disabilities and older adults to help them pay for basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter. But outdated eligibility rules punish SSI beneficiaries for saving money, pushing them into poverty. SSI also guarantees access to Medicaid in most states, which covers long-term services and supports and health care. Right now, people who get SSI cannot have more than $2,000 in financial resources and married couples can only have $3,000. Resources that count towards the SSI asset limit include cash, money in bank accounts, most retirement accounts, stocks and bonds, the value of life insurance policies and burial funds over $1,500, and some personal property. This strict asset limit has not been updated since 1984 and is not indexed to inflation.
“Decades of inflation and inaction have turned a crucial safety net program into a tightrope,” said Darcy Milburn, Director of Social Security and Healthcare Policy at The Arc of the United States. “The maximum amount of money an SSI beneficiary can have in a bank account is 80% less than what beneficiaries were allowed to save in 1972. SSI’s strict asset limits force people with disabilities to live on a financial knife’s edge. It’s an incredibly difficult administrative burden and a very delicate balancing act that can easily tip to losing benefits altogether – which can be catastrophic.”
The SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act would raise the SSI asset limit to $10,000 for individuals and index it to inflation moving forward. It would also raise the limit for married couples to $20,000 to help correct a harmful marriage penalty. The bill would significantly improve the lives of millions of people with disabilities and allow SSI beneficiaries to use their own savings to address needed emergencies when they arise.
SSI’s low asset limits combined with meager cash benefits are leaving 4 in 10 beneficiaries in poverty. People with disabilities live in poverty at more than twice the rate of those without disabilities, and SSI is a driving factor. These barriers are compounded by the Social Security Administration being in a state of crisis, where millions are waiting for appointments, decisions on applications, and appeals on rejected claims.
“Raising the SSI asset limit is one of the most important things we can do right now to improve financial security for millions of older adults and people with disabilities,” said Milburn. “The current asset limits trap people in poverty, create barriers to work, and make financial independence virtually impossible. SSI beneficiaries cannot save for necessary expenses like a security deposit or car repairs without the risk of losing their benefits, leaving many just one emergency away from homelessness and hunger. The negative impacts of the current SSI asset limits extend beyond individual SSI beneficiaries to their families, communities, and our economy as a whole.”
The Arc has advocated relentlessly for changes to SSI asset limits and against the existing unfair and discriminatory caps. For many years, we have urged Congress to update SSI requirements and benefits so that people with disabilities can have greater financial security and support, as well as pursue opportunities to build their futures.
About The Arc of the United States: The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy, and other diagnoses. Founded in 1950 by parents who believed their children with IDD deserved more, The Arc is now a network of nearly 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. Through the decades, The Arc has been at the forefront of advances in disability rights and supports. Visit thearc.org or follow us @TheArcUS to learn more. Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.
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