For millions of Americans, a bill introduced last week in Congress is a path to greater independence. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Savings Penalty Elimination Act would increase asset limits to $10,000 for individual beneficiaries, $20,000 for married couples, and annually adjust for inflation. By increasing the asset limitation, individuals with disabilities would have increased opportunity to achieve financial independence and more effectively work, earn, and save for their futures.
A Little Background
SSI – Suplemental Security Income – is the program designed to support people with a disability who are living independently or working towards living independently. It provides a cash benefit as well as medical coverage through Medicaid and Medicare. SSI is an essential lifeline to people with a disability.
It is hard to live on SSI alone. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2016, about half of all SSI beneficiaries had income levels below the federal poverty line. Many people on SSI are working, though their working hours, pay and savings are limited because of SSI requirements.
There are strict rules defining disability and there are limits on a recipient’s income and assets. In 1989, federal law set the asset limit at $2,000. There has been no adjustment or change since that time. That means if you had a job and saved some money, once you went over $2,000 in savings or assets (a car?), you lost your SSI benefits.
The combined asset level for a married couple was a paltry $3,000, so there was a strong disincentive to marry, which surely runs against public policy.
A Need for Change
I see this issue in several ways: as a citizen, as an employer and as a parent. My youngest son John has Down syndrome. At our company, John’s Crazy Socks, we want to show what people with a differing ability can achieve. More than half our colleagues have a differing ability and the vast majority are receiving SSI. This has a profound effect on their lives. Our colleagues often must choose between work and benefits because if they work too many hours, they lose their benefits. We support our colleagues by establishing four-hour work shifts and allowing people to work limited hours.
Many would like to work more hours. Many would like to save some money, maybe to buy a game console or an iPad. Some would like to get married. All face that asset level of $2,000. If they save too much money, they lose their benefits. This situation is so wrong at so many levels.
SSI creates great anxiety for recipients and their families. It provides incentives not to work and not to save money. It is time for a change.
Raise the Asset Levels Now
The bill to raise the asset levels to $10,000 for an individual and $20,000 for a married couple begins to change the direction of the SSI program. It would benefit the thousands of people with a disability who are working and striving for independence.
We are not talking about people getting wealthy off this system. We are not talking about people taking advantage of the system. We are talking about hardworking Americans who want to get some traction, who want to get ahead. They already need to turn a disability into an advantage. We should remove the barriers and offer them our support. The current SSI system is designed to hold them back, not lift them up. It is time for a change.
Contact your Senator. Contact your member of the House of Representatives. Ask them to support the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Savings Penalty Elimination Act.
About John’s Crazy Socks
John’s Crazy Socks was inspired by John Lee Cronin, a young man with Down syndrome, and his love of colorful and fun socks—what he calls his “crazy socks.” He and his father, Mark X. Cronin, started the company as a social enterprise with a mission of Spreading Happiness™. With more than 4,000 socks, John’s Crazy Socks is now the world’s largest sock store. More than half their employees have a differing ability, and their Giving Back program has raised over $650,000 for charity partners like the Special Olympics, the National Down Syndrome Society, and the Autism Society of America. Most of all, they are Spreading Happiness™.
For more information about John’s Crazy Socks, visit our webpage, Facebook page, Instagram account, TikTok or YouTube channel. You can also contact us at 631-760-5625 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.