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Four ways to improve the SSI program

In our last post we mentioned that the Supplemental Security Income program is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Since its inception it has helped keep people in Wisconsin out of homeless shelters and provided enough income to help the poorest and neediest among us. To qualify for SSI benefits, one must be at last 65 years old or have a severe disability. In addition, one must have extremely limited income and assets.

During the anniversary year, and as the so-called fiscal cliff is looming, it may be a good time to take a look at the health of the Supplemental Security Income program. Knowledgeable sources have suggested that some changes may need to be made to keep the program viable for future deserving recipients. Four types of changes, individually or as a group, could work towards that end.

  1. Change the asset limits. Currently a married couple can only have a maximum of $3,000 in assets before they no longer qualify for SSI benefits. However, it the limit was raised, then the family would have a small rainy day fund for emergencies. The suggested new limits would be $7,000 for individuals and $10,500 for couples.
  2. Change the income limits. Currently a person can earn a very small amount of money and still qualify for SSI benefits. The limits are $20 for unearned income and $65 for earned income. If the number were raised, then recipients would be encouraged to work because they could do so without losing their SSI benefits. This suggestion assumes that people who are able to work will also want to work.
  3. Adjust the benefits to reflect reality. The SSI benefits have not kept pace with inflation and do not reflect current wages.
  4. Adequately fund the Social Security Administration workers. SSA has cut its field office hours and employees and cannot adequately provide services to existing beneficiaries and new applicants.

Those who believe they qualify for SSI benefits may wish to consult with an attorney to assist them in the application process, or to help with an appeal if he or she has already been denied benefits.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Happy Birthday, SSI: A Safety Net for Vulnerable Americans," Donna Meltzer, Oct. 30, 2012

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