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Supplemental Security Income program celebrates 40th anniversary

Forty years ago the average cost of a new home in Wisconsin was $27,550, a gallon of gas cost 55 cents and inflation was at 3.27 percent. In 1972 Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in Munich, the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the Senate and Richard Nixon was president.

Before he resigned as President after the Watergate scandal, President Nixon signed a bill which created the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. SSI is celebrating its 40th anniversary as one of America's safety nets for our vulnerable citizens.

In 1972 the SSI was created in response to 8 million Americans who were elderly, blind or disabled. The federal program replaced a patchwork of state and federal programs which were not only failing to do the job; they were also cumbersome and confusing. In 1972 it was also standard practice for those with disabilities to live in institutions, when the individuals and their families reportedly preferred independent living or assistance that could make living with family a viable option.

Today the nation's preference is for community-based care or family care rather than large impersonal institutions. The average monthly cost for institutional care is $16,200 which is more than 27 times the amount of the average SSI benefit amount.

To qualify for SSI, one must be either 65 years old or older, or have a disability. Today 1.25 million children receive SSI benefits. The benefits are not large, but they provide the critical assistance needed to keep families together and care for our nation's most vulnerable. Without SSI assistance, 41 percent of those receiving benefits would qualify as living in extreme poverty which is less than half of the income of the poverty line. Even with the SSI assistance, those individuals are still living below the poverty line, but are no longer in extreme poverty.

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

  • At our La Crosse law firm, we assist those who are applying for SSI benefits, as well as those who have been denied the benefits and wish to appeal.

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