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Capitol Correspondence - 09.19.23

Bipartisan Push to Reform Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program Introduced

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U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) have announced a bipartisan effort to reform Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. This initiative marks the first bipartisan, bicameral push in decades to address a program that has not seen significant updates in nearly 40 years. 

The senators’ bipartisan SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act aims to rectify the current limitations of the SSI program, which unintentionally penalizes older and disabled Americans for saving for emergencies and their future financial well-being. The SSI program currently imposes asset limits that have not been adjusted since the 1980s. Individuals receiving SSI benefits are currently restricted to holding no more than $2,000 in assets, while married couples face a $3,000 limit. These restrictions affect approximately 60% of recipients, for whom SSI represents their sole source of income. The average monthly benefit is just $585. 

The SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act seeks to alleviate these burdens by increasing the asset limits to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for married couples. Furthermore, these limits would be indexed to inflation to ensure they remain relevant and effective moving forward. 

The urgency for reform stems from the way the current SSI program penalizes disabled and elderly Americans for engaging in productive activities such as working, saving for the future, and getting married. The proposed changes are designed to ensure that individuals on SSI can pursue financial independence and security without risking the essential benefits they rely on. 

A study conducted by JPMorgan Chase & Co. underscores the need for updating the asset and income limits of federal benefits for people with disabilities. The current limits create barriers to labor force participation and hinder the accumulation of savings. Updating these limits, as the Savings Penalty Elimination Act proposes, would “expand economic opportunity and mobility for people with disabilities,” according to the study. 

“SSI’s arbitrary and outdated rules make no sense. The government shouldn’t punish seniors and Ohioans with disabilities who do the right thing and save money,” said Sen. Brown. “It’s long past time we end these out-of-date government restrictions and allow Americans on SSI to save for emergencies and for their futures without putting the benefits they rely on to live at risk.” 

“Someone who is disabled should not have to choose between a better job and losing their safety net because of outdated rules,” said Sen. Cassidy. “This is an easy fix that encourages work, allows people to save, and lifts people out of poverty.”  

To support this bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives, U.S. Representatives Brian Higgins (D-NY) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) will introduce companion legislation. Additionally, several original Senate cosponsors, including U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Casey (D-PA), and James Lankford (R-OK), have co-sponsored the legislation. 

This bipartisan effort has garnered support from a diverse range of over 300 organizations, including ANCOR, AARP, JPMorgan Chase, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Evangelicals, Microsoft, the Bipartisan Policy Center, The Arc of the United States, Catholic Charities, and more.