In June 2021, Sherrod Brown reintroduced the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act to bring the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program up to date. The federal SSI program provides nearly 8 million Americans who are elderly, disabled, or with limited resources with income assistance to provide basic needs. However, the program is long overdue for an update, since the SSI benefits received are only a fraction of what is needed to live on.
Senator Brown said: “The promise of Social Security is to ensure that no one in America should live in poverty—least of all our nation’s seniors and people with disabilities…Congress must prioritize these long-overdue reforms as part of upcoming recovery legislation.”
Brown called on the Biden Administration to make some much-needed changes to the SSI program, many elements supported by many other politicians, including President Biden. The bill is sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Robert Casey (D-PA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tina Smith (D-MN).
The bill has also been endorsed by Justice in Aging, AARP, AFL-CIO, AFSCME Retirees, Easter Seals, United Auto Workers (UAW), Leading Age, Homeless Action Center, Medicare Rights Center, National Alliance to End Homelessness, National Center for Law & Economic Justice, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), National Council on Aging, National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Women’s Law Center, New York Legal Assistance Group, Social Security Works, Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE), Strengthen Social Security Coalition, the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, and more.
The Restoration Act comprises many elements, all designed to improve the living situation of those receiving SSI benefits. Some of these changes include:
- Raising SSI benefits to $794, a 31% increase from $585, to keep up with inflation.
- Eliminate benefit reductions from those receiving in-kind assistance from friends or family for living expenses.
- Eliminate the marriage penalty, which will allow couples to have double the benefits of an individual instead of just 1.5 the amount an individual would receive.
- Update the assets individuals/couples may have while receiving benefits, which haven’t been updated since 1989.
- Update the SSI income rules, which haven’t been updated since the law was passed in 1972.
Changes for 2022
While the Restoration Act was designed to help SSI beneficiaries in many ways, 2022 has also brought a cost of living adjustment (COLA) change on basic needs. As of January 2022, there is a 5.9% cost of living adjustment (COLA). COLA is based on the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) from the third quarter of the last year, and is designed to prevent inflation from draining any benefits you would receive and keeping SSI recipients above the Federal poverty line. COLA hasn’t previously been this high since 1982, only coming close in 2009. The income cap has also been raised for both workers under the retirement age, and those of the retirement age.
The President has also signed an executive order, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. The Executive Order requires all Federal agencies “to pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and other people who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.” This order will increase the collection of minority data, expand options for service delivery, decrease burdens of those who identify as gender diverse or transgender, ensure equitable access for unrepresented claimants in the disability application process, and more.
Lastly, Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, announced 12 new Compassionate Allowances conditions. This program is designed to accelerate claims for those with a condition or disease which meets Social Security’s statutory standard for disability. These claims are often allowed based on medical diagnosis alone because of the severe nature of these conditions. More than 800,000 people with severe disabilities have been approved through this accelerated, policy-compliant disability process, which has grown to 266 conditions.
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