California has the highest rate of senior poverty in the nation. Older adults are struggling to make ends meet and stay in their homes, especially in the parts of California with the highest housing costs. Homelessness among California seniors is on the rise.

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), can be an economic lifeline for low-income older adults as it provides a very basic income to pay for shelter, food, and other necessities. However, the program is historically under-enrolled.

Improving and Protecting SSI for California Seniors

Justice in Aging has launched two new projects in 2016 and 2017 to increase access to and utilization of SSI benefits among older adults in California, and to build a strong coalition of statewide advocates who are informed about and trained in the details of the SSI program.

  • One project is aimed at improving access to SSI for low-income seniors residing in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • A second project is aimed at improving access to SSI for low-income seniors who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness in California, with an initial emphasis on the Los Angeles and greater Southern California region.

Specifically these projects will address problems in the administration of the SSI program, and improve access to SSI for low-income older adults. This will be accomplished through targeted trainings on SSI for local advocates and service providers so that they are better equipped to serve their clients, as well as building a network of local partners interested in working toward systemic improvements.

These projects allow Justice in Aging to deepen our impact in California, and to leverage what we learn through our work in the Los Angeles area and the Bay Area to inform our efforts to fight senior poverty throughout California and the nation.

Facts About SSI in California

California is home to nearly 1.3 million SSI recipients. In Alameda County alone over 50,000 people rely on SSI, and over 25,000 SSI recipients reside in Contra Costa County. Seniors receiving SSI, as well as service providers who are helping them, often have a hard time understanding SSI eligibility rules that lead to reductions and terminations. Those currently receiving SSI frequently experience problems when trying to appeal decisions that reduce or terminate their benefits, because they cannot navigate Social Security’s burdensome and complex appeal process.

Resources for SSI advocates

  • SSI California Fact Sheet – Learn who SSI helps in California by the numbers and get an overview of improvement efforts.
  • SSI Basics training  – Learn the basics of SSI in this free webinar, geared to new legal services advocates and other community advocates
  • Hart v. Berryhill  – Keep up-to-date on the class action challenging inadequate exams from a Social Security doctor who operated in the Bay Area
  • Californians for SSI  – Justice in Aging is a part of the statewide CA4SSI coalition advocating for improved SSI policies at the state and federal level
  • Senior Poverty Forum – View the recording of the forum organized by Justice in Aging on November 15, 2016, discussing the growing numbers of seniors living in poverty, efforts local providers are undertaking to serve these seniors, and policies we can advance to improve their lives.

Contacts for SSI advocates

If you have any questions about the projects, including requests for trainings and questions about partnering with the projects, please contact Trinh Phan at tphan@justiceinaging.org for the East Bay project, or Jenny Chung Mejia at jchungmejia@justiceinaging.org for the Southern California project.