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Has the time finally come to fix Supplemental Security Income?

"SSI beneficiaries face the most severe levels of poverty of any group of Social Security beneficiaries," the head of the National Council on Disability, a federal agency tasked with giving independent policy information and advice to Congress and the White House, recently wrote to President Obama. "We urge you to incorporate common-sense program reforms to SSI designed to improve beneficiary well-being and enhance the ability of SSI beneficiaries to participate in the workforce."

Supplemental Security Income provides a bare level of subsistence -- an average of about $527 a month -- to disabled children, those with permanent disabilities, the blind, and some people over 65. It covers people who don't qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance because they haven't been able to build up enough work credits, often because they have been permanently disabled from work for years or from birth.

One of the common sense reforms the council is asking for is an increase in the asset limit for beneficiaries of SSI -- a limit that is not adjusted for inflation and has not been increased since 1989.

Right now, disabled people can't qualify for SSI if they have any more than $2,000 to their names, and they lose their benefits if they accrue that much wealth. The very cushion of savings that could give them a sustainable path out of poverty is a threat to their existing security.

Similarly, while SSI beneficiaries are allowed and even encouraged to work, the program essentially subtracts a little less than 50 cents from your benefit check for every dollar you earn. Those who earn enough to lose their benefits often also lose their eligibility for Medicaid, even though they are among those most in need of health coverage.

The National Council on Disability would like to see the asset limit raised to $10,000 and changed so that it will automatically be adjusted to inflation. It also recommends changing the calculus for continuing benefits when a recipient is able to work, in order to further support realistic efforts at self-sufficiency.

SSI beneficiaries are being disproportionately hurt by federal budget cuts and the sequester, the group says. Now is the time for real changes that could not only help people with disabilities rise out of poverty, but also reduce the need for -- and thus the cost -- of the program.

Source: Disability Scoop, "White House Urged To Raise SSI Limits," Michelle Diament, April 19, 2013

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