Congress created the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program in 1972. This is the nation’s program to help people with disabilities who cannot work and who have not worked long enough to claim benefits from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). About eight million Americans rely on SSI to survive.
According to the New York Times, when the SSI program was passed into law, lawmakers said that it was “designed to provide a positive assurance that the nation’s aged, blind and disabled people would no longer have to subsist on below-poverty-level incomes.”
But today, the maximum annual benefit — $9,528 – is only three-quarters of the federal poverty level. When SSI recipients can perform some work, their benefits are decreased. Beneficiaries can have no more than $2,000 in savings and can get kicked off the program if they receive funds – or even shelter – from their loved ones. Most will lose their benefits if they marry, and very few can afford that.
By all accounts, the maximum benefit was never meant to be this low. It has never even been adjusted for inflation.
Disability advocates have worked long and hard to build up the political clout they need to effect change. Now, they feel there may be a shot at overhauling the program to pull people out of poverty.
The Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act is now before Congress. The bill would increase SSI’s maximum benefit to the poverty rate and index it to inflation. The amount a beneficiary could earn in income without penalty would rise from $85 a month to $500 month. In-kind support like food and shelter would no longer affect eligibility, and beneficiaries would be allowed to have up to $10,000 in assets without losing their benefits.
Do you think these would be positive changes to the program?
An ABLE account allows some flexibility
If you’re struggling but have loved ones who could help, consider opening an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account. This is a tax-free way to save for expenses related to your disability without losing your benefits.
You, your friends and family members can contribute up to $15,000 per year to an ABLE account – slightly more if you can work. The account can grow to a maximum size of $511,758. The contributions to the ABLE account may be deductible on your Pennsylvania tax return.
You can use the money from your ABLE account to pay for “qualified disability expenses,” which includes a wide variety of things related to your disability, including education, housing, transportation, employment support, health and wellness expenses, assistive technology, personal support and more.