​Will Congress Finally Increase SSI’s Asset Limits?

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on May 31, 2022 # Advocacy and Policy

Photo of dollar bills scattered aroundOn April 28, 2022, Ohio Senators Brown (D) and Portman (R) introduced a bipartisan bill to amend the Social Security Act in order to update the rules on how much money Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries can save. The bill, the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act (S. 4102), seeks to increase the amount of money that individuals can save from $2,000 to $10,000 and increase the amount that married couples can save from $3,000 to $20,000. The current savings caps have not been updated since 1989, and this bill would address future updates to the savings cap by tying it to inflation.

If this bill gains traction, it could mean real change for people with disabilities. According to the Social Security Administration, the agency that administers the SSI program, SSI benefits are provided to “people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older.” In March of 2022, more than 4 million disabled people under the age of 65 received social security benefits.

While SSI provides a maximum monthly benefit of $841 per person or $1,261 for couples where both people are eligible for the program, many people receive significantly less, with the average monthly benefit for all recipients is currently $625.50.

The reality of all of this is that disabled people are being kept in a vicious cycle of poverty. With meager monthly benefits from SSI and a current savings cap of $2000 per person, people with disabilities are unable to save for practical everyday expenses, like a vehicle or a down payment on a home or an emergency fund, or even an important piece of medical equipment that insurance will not cover. Increasing the asset limit to $10,000 per person would give disabled people a real opportunity to save for the basic things that nondisabled people take for granted - without putting their benefits at risk.

Furthermore, increasing the asset limit also helps to ameliorate the impact of the Marriage Penalties that harm people with disabilities who receive benefits. Marriage Penalties for two people who receive SSI that want to get married begin when they get married or if a man and a woman “hold themselves out” as a married couple[1] because their benefits are reduced by 25% simply because of their status as a married couple. Additionally, their asset limits are also reduced significantly because individuals can save $2,000, but couples may only save $3,000 total. Another important aspect to the marriage penalties is that in most states eligibility for SSI will also allow a person to be eligible for Medicaid. Disabled people rely on Medicaid not only to cover important health visits, but also for medical equipment such as wheelchairs, medication, attendant services, and more. This means that anything that may impact a person’s SSI has a serious ripple effect that can have devastating consequences. Increasing the marriage asset limit to $20,000 would help to address (but not eliminate) the Marriage Penalties by allowing a married couple to save just as much as two individuals would be allowed to save.

While this bill could improve the lives of many disabled people, it’s important that we watch the progress of this bill with realistic expectations. After all, Senator Brown also introduced a bill called the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act (S. 2065) back in June of 2021, which included all of the same provisions as this current bill plus more - but it has not seen any movement since it was introduced. Previous iterations of this bill have also been introduced several times in the past.

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

[1] Note that the “hold out” rule does not apply to same-sex couples and SSA simply does not address identities outside of the gender-binary for this rule.

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