Slepian Smith, PLLC

Senator keeps trying to get SSI asset cap raised in Congress

At our law firm, we help disabled Arizonans obtain all benefits for which they may be eligible through the Social Security Administration. Many people are familiar with Social Security Disability Insurance, known as SSDI, a public disability insurance program that people pay into through their Social Security payroll deductions. Eligibility is based on work history.

What is Supplemental Security Income?

For people who have not had a regular work history and may not qualify for SSDI, another program may provide financial relief: Supplemental Security Income or SSI. Eligibility is based on disability (or blindness or advanced age) and low income and assets. In 2019, the highest monthly benefit in Arizona through SSI is $771 for an individual and $1,157 for a married couple. These amounts may be lower if the recipient receives certain types of countable income.

Financial resources must be quite limited to be eligible for SSI:

  • Income: The SSA has complex rules about what kinds of income it counts toward the allowable monthly limits. In 2019, the monthly income limits for someone whose only income is from wages is $1,627 (or $2,399 for a couple) and if income is not from wages, $791 (or $1,177 for a couple).
  • Resources: Countable assets or resources include things like cash, checking or savings accounts, land, vehicles, life insurance and others. Based on complex regulations, determining the level of countable resources is crucial because the resource limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a married couple.

Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has been trying to pass a bill since 2014 that would provide relief to those on SSI and ease these strict financial limits. According to Cleveland.com, Congress established the currently low asset limits of $2,000 individual/$3,000 couple in 1989. Criticism is widespread that to become or stay eligible for SSI, people must impoverish themselves. Many have called for increases to the financial limits in recognition of inflation and of how brutally low the current limits are.

Brown, who has reintroduced his legislation, would raise the asset caps to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for couples. This would allow recipients to set aside some money for emergencies and not live within such severe financial restrictions. The bill would also:

  • Allow more monthly income before reducing the monthly SSI benefit amount.
  • Introduce indexing for inflation.
  • Repeal the marriage penalty. Currently, an individual gets $2,000, but if married, instead of doubling the amount, it is only increased by 50% to $3,000.
  • Stop the “deeming” of income based on expenses eased by living with other people.
  • Allow a small amount of monthly income from certain pensions and veterans benefits without reducing the monthly benefit.

A companion bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

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