Reform May Offer Much-Needed Help to SSI Beneficiaries

March 7, 2023

The Biden Administration is proposing a rule change that would make life easier for those Americans who receive monthly benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability program.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is based on financial need, not work history. The Social Security Administration (SSA) says, “It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income.”

SSI disability benefits are for individuals who have disabilities and have never been able to work, or who have worked but haven’t earned enough work credits to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

The Supplemental Security Income program has stringent eligibility requirements that haven’t been adjusted for decades. For more information, see Tom Nash’s informative blog article, “Congress Must Raise SSI Asset Limits.”

The maximum SSI benefit is a paltry $914 per month for an individual (which is well below the current federal poverty level). The finances of SSI beneficiaries are subject to intense scrutiny by the government, including a requirement to give the government permission to monitor their bank accounts.

Currently SSI applicants must report whether they buy their own food or if somebody outside of their household helps them, and they also must report on an ongoing basis if the amount of help they receive increases or decreases.

If an SSI beneficiary gets assistance with buying food, their benefit amount can be slashed by as much as one-third, meaning a $304-a-month reduction for those earning the maximum benefit. The current SSA rules discourage people from offering even modest help to family members or friends with disabilities.

Now the Social Security Administration wants to eliminate these rules to open up an avenue for those who care about others with disabilities, and allow them to offer some basic help with meals and groceries. However, any change to the rules won’t take effect immediately. By law, the SSA has to solicit public comments and then respond to the feedback.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chair of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy has been an outspoken advocate for strengthening the Social Security safety nets.

He calls SSI a “forgotten” program since Congress has ignored updating the program for years, and he is leading a bipartisan effort to strengthen Social Security programs.

In a press release Senator Brown called SSI “[a]n often-forgotten part of America’s Social Security system; [it] is a federal program that provides vital income assistance to nearly 8 million elderly and disabled Americans with low incomes and limited resources, including over 1 million disabled children. But due to decades of shameful federal neglect, the program now consigns millions to deep and enduring poverty, when it should instead offer a lifeline out of it.”