Congress Proposes Increase to SSI Access and Benefits

Congress Proposes Increase to SSI Access and Benefits

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides payments to aged, blind, or disabled people who have limited income and resources. If you’re of working age, to qualify you must show both that you have a disability and that you have little income and few assets. In 2021 Social Security still uses assets limits from the 1980s, pays an amount less than the federal poverty rate, and penalizes married couples by reducing their benefit. A bill before Congress seeks to change that.

The Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act.

The proposed bill, titled the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act, would be a major change in the current operation of Social Security’s SSI program. The bill proposes to increase the monthly benefit, eliminate the marriage penalty, increase and index the asset limits, and make it easier for beneficiaries to earn or receive small amounts of income without reducing their benefit amount. While the bill makes changes to SSI, it does not change the more popular SSDI program benefit payments.

Increase the Monthly Benefit.

The maximum monthly SSI benefit in 2021 is $794 per month for an individual. $794 is below the federal poverty rate. The bill proposes to increase the individual amount to equal the federal poverty rate - currently a little over $1,000 per month. Such a change would increase the maximum amount an individual could receive by over 30%.

Eliminate the Marriage Penalty.

While an individual can receive a maximum of $794 in 2021, that amount does not double for a couple. If two individuals on SSI are married their current maximum benefit is only $1,191 - a little less than $600 per individual. The current bill eliminates the marriage penalty and would allow the individual maximum benefit rate to be doubled for married couples.

Update and Index Asset Limits.

Currently even if disabled and without income, a claimant would not be eligible for SSI if they have assets worth $2,000. Certain assets like a home and a first car are excluded. But if, for example, someone had managed to save $2,000 in a bank account they would no longer be eligible for SSI until they “spend-down” their resources until the total is less than $2,000. Currently, couples may have up to $3,000 in resources.

These asset limits were set in 1989 and have not changed since then. The new bill proposes to change the amounts to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for couples.  Moreover, the asset limits would be indexed so that the amounts would keep pace with inflation. Had the 1989 amounts been indexed for inflation, an individual could have around $4,400 in assets instead of the current $2,000.

Fewer Penalties for Limited Earned and Unearned Income.

Presently, unearned income tends to reduce an individual’s SSI benefit on a dollar-for-dollar basis for every dollar of unearned income received in excess of $20. SSI recipients can work but every dollar they earn in excess of about $65 reduces their benefit by about $0.50. The new bill proposes to increase the earned and unearned income limits so that those individuals that might still be able to work part-time will have an incentive to do so.  Lastly, the bill also seeks to reduce the penalty for in-kind support that SSI recipients often receive from family members.

Where to Learn More:

  1. Use Disability Alabama’s disability calculator for an estimate of your benefit. While you do not need any special information to complete the calculation you may want to take a moment to think about your average yearly income and current household income before using the disability calculator; and
  2. If you are in Alabama, contact Disability Alabama for help with your disability application, or appeal.