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Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Poor Elderly Women Get Some Respect in the Senate

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Special Committee on Aging about ways to reduce poverty among the elderly. Both Chair Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) recognized that although elderly poverty has been reduced dramatically over the past 50 years, it remains a serious problem. This is especially true for women, who are two-thirds of the elderly poor.

Although Social Security does an amazing job of lifting older women out of poverty—without it, nearly half of older women would be poor—millions of older women—especially women of color and single elderly women—still live in poverty.  

There is another program intended specifically to provide a safety net for poor elders and people with disabilities: Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. Two-thirds of aged SSI recipients are women, and SSI does make a difference for many; in 2012, it lifted nearly 317,000 seniors out of poverty and 450,000 out of deep poverty (deep poverty means an income below 50 percent of the federal poverty line, or $5,500 a year for an individual). But between 2011 and 2012, the number of seniors living in deep poverty increased by 235,000, while the number of seniors receiving SSI increased by fewer than 23,000. When the growth in the number of elders in deep poverty is more than ten times the growth in the number receiving SSI, we know our safety net for poor elders is failing. Read more »

5 Public Programs That Lift Millions of Women and Children Out of Poverty

In 2012, Social Security kept 12.1 million women and 1 million children out of poverty.

This new statistic can be calculated based on data released today by the Census Bureau. Also part of the release of new data is a report on the supplemental poverty measure (SPM) which takes into account the impact of public programs, as well as medical out-of-pocket and other expenses on families’ economic security. For more about poverty measurement, see our FAQ.

This past September, the Census Bureau released the official poverty numbers for 2012, which showed that women’s poverty remained historically high, with 17.8 million women (14.5 percent) in poverty. Our report detailed what the numbers looked like and the trends over time. But what we didn’t get to see in that data was how many people’s incomes were pulled above the poverty line by specific public programs, some of which are counted in the official poverty measure and some of which aren’t. Today, we can delve deeper into how many people were lifted out of poverty by these programs and who they were. Read more »

Typical Single Elderly Woman’s Social Security Benefit Won’t Fully Recover from Chained CPI – Unless She Lives to 104

As expected, President Obama’s FY 14 budget includes a proposal to use the “chained Consumer Price Index” – a slower-growing measure of inflation that would cut Social Security benefits by reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments. This is not just a technical change – but a benefit cut that would cause real hardship to the elderly and the poor. The President’s budget recognizes this threat and proposes some protections for vulnerable beneficiaries from the chained CPI – but NWLC analysis shows that this strategy is not adequate.

The budget proposes a bump-up in benefits for long-term beneficiaries, who would experience the worst cuts because the cuts grow deeper every year. In addition, the budget would not apply the chained CPI to needs-based benefit programs, such as Supplemental Security Income, or use it to determine eligibility for programs like SNAP (Food Stamps).

NWLC’s analysis finds that the small and gradual benefit increases from the bump-ups wouldn’t restore the monthly benefit of the typical single elderly woman to current-law levels—unless she lives to 104. Read more »

Nicholas Kristof Gets It Wrong on SSI - These Benefits Are Critical for Families in Need

Last week, New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof, a writer I respect and admire enormously, wrote a surprisingly critical piece of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. He detailed the stories of a few families, arguing that SSI “condemned [disabled children] to a life of poverty on the dole.”

I have a few stories of my own about disabled adults on SSI, and trust me, they need it. Between 2008 and 2009, I spent a year as a case manager at a homeless shelter in Chicago. In that time, I worked with many guests and clients of the shelter who had mental and/or physical disabilities that prevented them from working. And when you can’t work – it’s hard to have enough income to let you meet basic needs. That’s where assistance programs came in.

One of my clients at the shelter was a man who had been on SSI since he was a child. He had been a part of the program that serves disabled children and had transitioned into the adult program after turning 18. Then in his late 20s, I worked with him as he went through the routine evaluation conducted to check disability status, or check that the person is still in need of SSI. This man wasn’t someone who was trying to cheat the system – he suffered from a mental illness, was unable to work, and as an adult had to continue to prove his need for SSI. His meager SSI check was what paid his rent, bought food, and got him around the city to appointments. Read more »

After 40 Years, Time to Modernize SSI

This week is the 40th anniversary of the Supplemental Security Income program, SSI. We celebrate SSI’s vital role in providing support to the elderly poor and to poor adults and children with disabilities. It’s a particularly important program for women, who make up over two-thirds of all beneficiaries 65 and older.

Forty isn’t very old. Our Social Security system is 77, and it’s an American classic. But key parts of SSI have barely changed in the 40 years since it was enacted – and it urgently needs to be updated.

For example, with the exception of $20 per month, every additional $1 in Social Security benefits means $1 less in SSI benefits. This amount hasn’t been changed since the program was created 40 years ago – but what you can buy with $20 sure has. Adjusting for inflation since 1972 would raise this amount to $110 per month, allowing individuals with very low Social Security benefits – disproportionately women – to get a more meaningful benefit from their years of work and contributions to Social Security. Read more »