March 01, 2013

H.R. 1601: The Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act

Gerald McIntyre

(Note: For a footnoted version of this article, please download the pdf issue of BIFOCAL Vol. 34, Issue 4.)

On April 17, 2013, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced “The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Restoration Act” in Congress. The bill, H.R. 1601, would update several SSI eligibility requirements which are seriously outdated and would simplify the administrative process in this long-neglected program. SSI provides a sub-poverty level income to eight million people with very limited financial resources who are either over age 65 or who are unable to work because of severe disabilities.

The bill, if enacted, would:

  • Increase the SSI General Income Disregard from the current $20 to $110 per month. This general income disregard was established to reward work, by providing a boost to those who worked long enough to qualify for Social Security or other retirement benefit. The amount has not been changed since 1972. Twenty dollars in 1972 is the equivalent of $3.63 today and the general income disregard thus no longer provides meaningful support.
  • Increase the Earned Income Disregard from the current $65 to $357 per month. This earned income disregard was intended to encourage those who could to return to the work force. It too has not been changed since the day SSI became law. $357 today is equal to approximately $65 in 1972. 
  • Update the resource limit for individuals and couples from $2,000 ($3,000 for an eligible couple) to $10,000 ($15,000 for an eligible couple). The resource limit has increased only 33% since 1972 even though the cost of living today is more than five and a half times what it was in 1972. As a result the resource limit today is inadequate to deal with the perfectly predictable emergency needs of SSI recipients.
  • No longer count in-kind support and maintenance as income. Under current law, there can be a reduction in monthly benefits of one-third of the Federal Benefit Rate if an SSI recipient receives in-kind food and/or shelter. This provision discourages family members who may want to provide a place to live in their home to an SSI recipient. The in-kind support and maintenance provision also adds to the expense of administering the program.
  • Repeal the penalty for the transfer of a resource for less than fair market value within 36 months of applying for SSI or while receiving SSI. This policy enacted in 1999 is based on the assumption that people will give away valuable property for the opportunity to live on a subsistence income. The transfer penalty causes considerable hardship for recipients without accomplishing any worthwhile objective. It also unnecessarily adds to the administrative expense of the program.

On the day the bill was introduced, the National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC) sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing attended by some 60 Hill staff and government officials, as well as advocates and representatives of other interest groups. At the briefing, Rep. Grijalva noted that many aspects of the SSI program had not been changed since it was signed into law in 1972 by President Nixon. He went on to say “So today we introduce the SSI Restoration Act, which begins the process of bringing this program into the 21st century.”

Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden, one of the panelists at the briefing, stated “These beneficiaries, these people who are the most vulnerable, need us to step up . . . . It’s really scandalous that there has not been an inflation adjustment [to these provisions] in this program for 40 years.”

Initial cosponsors of the bill are Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Barbara Lee (D.-CA), Rep. Eleanor Homes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY).

As of April 22, 2013, the organizations that have endorsed the bill are as follows:

  • Alliance for Retired Americans
  • American Association on Health and Disability
  • Association of University Centers on Disabilities
  • Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
  • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
  • Health & Disability Advocates
  • Latinos for Secure Retirement
  • National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
  • National Council on Aging
  • National Down Syndrome Society
  • National Hispanic Council on Aging
  • National Respite Coalition
  • National Senior Citizens Law Center
  • National Women’s Law Center
  • Social Security Works
  • Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
  • Strengthen Social Security Coalition
  • The Arc of the United States
  • Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement
  • Youth Law Center

Statements of support, a summary of H.R. 1601, and a fact sheet about the SSI program are available at www.NSCLC.org. For more information on the SSI Restoration Act, please contact Gerald McIntyre at gmcintyre@nsclc.org or (213)-674-2900 or Kate Lang at klang@nsclc.org or (202)-289-6976, ext. 214. ■

Gerald McIntyre

About the Author: Gerald McIntyre is a Directing Attorney at the National Senior Citizens Law Center in Los Angeles, CA.