It is hard to imagine trying to live on just $698 a month, even with rent subsidies and health coverage from Medicare and/or Medicaid. But that’s what we expect of millions of people who rely on the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
The poorest two million people over age 65 and 6 million others with severe disabilities receive SSI. One out of every three age 65 or over applying for SSI has a primary language other than English and a disproportionately large share is African-American.
These Americans, all of them at least age 65 or unable to work because of disabilities, live on an income that provides little more than bare survival. And, there’s more. An SSI recipient cannot have more than $2,000 in available resources and, in most states, cannot have a monthly total income exceeding $718, an amount significantly below poverty level.
Not everyone receives the full $698 federal benefit. For example, if you are receiving in-kind food or shelter, you will be paid at a lower rate, probably $233 less. And, while the cost of living has gone up over 400% since 1972, the limit on the amount of resources an SSI recipient can have has increased only a barely perceptible 33% in the same 40-year period.
There is much talk about changing Social Security, but we must not forget the SSI program or the people it helps. Any changes to Social Security may have serious, negative consequences for those receiving SSI. We continue to support reforms to the SSI program, including increasing the benefit rate, improving the appeals process, and ending draconian restrictions such as the inhumane restrictions on immigrant eligibility. Also, if improvements to Social Security are made, we must assure that those beneficiaries who also receive SSI receive the full benefit of whatever improvements are made.
P.S. Our 2011 annual report is online. Please take a look.