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Proposal to raise resource limits for SSI eligibility

At Gesmer & Reynolds, P.C., in Rockford, Illinois, our attorneys represent people in the region, including suburban Chicago and southern Wisconsin, in their applications for benefits available through the Social Security Administration, or SSA. Readers may be more familiar with Social Security Disability Insurance, called SSDI, which is public disability insurance. People earn SSDI coverage through their history of Social Security payroll deductions.

For those who do not have enough work history for SSDI eligibility, the Supplemental Security Income program, known as SSI, should be considered. SSI is a monthly governmental payment based on disability, blindness or older age combined with low income and assets.

Since 1989, SSI has required a cap on countable assets of $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a married couple. Advocates have widely criticized this limit, which essentially requires people to remain in poverty to preserve their SSI eligibility. On Oct. 30, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act to modernize the program. He has been advocating for this bill since 2014.

If passed, the bill would increase the asset limit to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for married couples. Brown’s main talking point for the legislation is that this would allow SSI recipients to set aside some money for emergencies. In addition, this would eliminate the “marriage penalty,” because presently, two people each on SSI who are married have a countable resource limit of $3,000, when if they were not married, they would each have a $2,000 limit.

The marriage penalty currently also applies to monthly benefit amounts, which in 2019 are a maximum of $771 for an individual, but for a married couple, $1,157. The bill would make the married benefit double that of an individual benefit.

Other provisions of the proposed legislation include cost-of-living increases, a monthly income allowance of $399 before benefits are reduced, a monthly allowance of up to $123 from a pension or similar benefit plan, repeal of the provision deeming income to an individual because they live with others and more.

Advocates for the disabled will watch this legislation with interest as these reforms would be very helpful for those struggling to comply with current SSI limits.

(In Illinois, people eligible for SSI or who make too much for SSI may be eligible for a state supplement called Aid to the Aged, Blind or Disabled Cash program, or AABD.)