Lawmakers introduce Bill to Address Poverty among Older Americans and People with Disabilities on SSI

Washington, DC—Aging and disability advocates celebrate Older Americans Month today as Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) introduce The Supplemental Security Restoration Act of 2015 into both houses of Congress.

The Act will restore the original intent of the SSI program (protecting seniors and people with disabilities from the harms of poverty) by updating earned and unearned income disregard rules, raising the asset limit, and modernizing a number of financial eligibility rules. Justice in Aging and more than 70 other national organizations have signed on in support of the bill. And 25 additional House members have signed on as co-sponsors, showing broad support for the Act’s much-needed updates.

“SSI helps millions of our most vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities keep their heads above water. But eligibility requirements have not kept up with inflation, squeezing many struggling Americans out of the program,” said Senator Warren. “The SSI Restoration Act will strengthen this critical program for families who depend on it, and I am very pleased to join Senator Brown, Senator Sanders, and Congressman Grijalva in introducing this important bill.”

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a safety net program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that provides a very basic income to older adults and people with disabilities who have no or limited other income and resources. Approximately 8.4 million Americans rely on a monthly SSI benefit to pay for their basic needs including rent, food, transportation, utilities, and health care co-pays. As Older Americans Month is a time to celebrate the older adults in our lives, it is also a time to remember the 6.3 million seniors living in poverty, many of whom rely on SSI to make ends meet.

“SSI’s 1972-era solutions for modern-day challenges are painfully inadequate for the elderly and disabled Americans who rely on it,” said Rep. Grijalva. “Our cost of living has increased more than five-fold since then, yet its financial support remains frozen in time. What’s worse, its requirements are increasingly restrictive as it falls further out of pace with our society. Many recipients are now subjected to the very life of poverty it was intended to prevent.  While others with the slightest assistance from Social Security or a caring relative are penalized or even blocked from the program entirely. It’s time to ensure this lifeline lives up to its original intent, and provides assistance designed to meet 21st century needs.”

The full monthly federal benefit is $733 for an individual and $1,100 for a couple, meaning individuals living solely on SSI are living at just 75% of the federal poverty level, far short of the income required to meet their basic needs.

Currently, for recipients who have small amounts of social security or pension income, are able to save a little, or work a little, there is no way out of this situation. The Supplement Security Restoration Act of 2015 will make much-needed updates to the provisions that govern the amount of other income and savings recipients can have to bring the program more in line with today’s economic realities. For example, the amount of income a beneficiary is allowed to receive from other sources (such as social security or a pension) without having their benefits reduced is $20. This is called the general income disregard.

The cost of living today is more than 5.5 times what it was in 1972, meaning $20 today is equivalent in purchasing power to about $3 in 1972 dollars. The Act would raise the general income disregard to $112 a month. Other updates will be made to rules regarding the amount of earned income and savings or assets recipients can have.

For more information and a full list of updates, read the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2015 Policy Brief and SSI FAQs.

“For millions of the most vulnerable Americans, Supplemental Security Income isn’t just a safety-net – it’s their only source of income,” said Senator Brown. “Eligibility requirements for these benefits have not kept up with inflation – and too many recipients fear that working for additional income could put their benefits at risk. The Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act would update the law to encourage individuals who receive SSI to work toward financial security.”

One in five women over 65 living alone in America lives in poverty. Meet four of those women in this video.
 

Justice in Aging is a national non-profit legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty through law. Formerly the National Senior Citizens Law Center, since 1972 we’ve worked for access to affordable health care and economic security for older adults with limited resources, focusing especially on populations that have traditionally lacked legal protection such as women, people of color, LGBT individuals, and people with limited English proficiency. Through targeted advocacy, litigation, and the trainings and resources we provide to local advocates, we ensure access to the social safety net programs that poor seniors depend on, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). For more information, visit our website at www.justiceinaging.org.

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Contact: Vanessa Barrington
510-256-1200 direct
vbarrington(dot)justiceinaging(dot)org

Katrina Cohens

About Katrina Cohens

Katrina Cohens is based in Justice in Aging’s Washington, DC office and serves as the Database Manager.