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For SSI beneficiaries, food stamp cuts cancel out COLA increases

As we discussed on this blog on Nov. 1, the Social Security Administration announced a cost of living adjustment, or COLA, for 2014. That means that Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries can expect a 1.5-percent increase in benefits starting on Dec. 31, 2013. For a single person receiving $710 in monthly SSI benefits now, his or her 2014 monthly check would be $721. For a married couple where both spouses receive SSI, however, the increase is only $16 per household.

"Twenty bucks a month might not seem like much," one SSI beneficiary recently told the Huffington Post, "but that makes a big difference when you go to the store."

SSI benefits go to disabled children and for adults with disabilities that keep them from working -- and who have no more than $2,000-$3,000 in total assets. As a result, a substantial number of the nearly 8 million SSI beneficiaries in the U.S. are also eligible for some other basic assistance programs, such as food stamps.

The federal food stamp program is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the annual farm bill. This year, as you may know, Congress made cuts to SNAP as a compromise on that bill.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, those cuts essentially wiped out the effect of the COLA for SSI beneficiaries who receive food stamps. For couples who receive the maximum SNAP benefit, the monthly allowance dropped by $20 on Nov. 1.

So, starting from Nov. 1, SSI beneficiaries with two or more people in the household actually come out behind. Between Nov. 1 and the end of 2014, the COLA increase for couples who both depend on SSI is a total of $192, but the SNAP cut results in a decrease in their food budget of $280.

Whatever your politics, surely providing subsistence-level benefits for adults whose disabilities keep them from working is not too much to ask. Where is the sense in an upward cost of living adjustment for SSI benefits if it's merely offset by cuts to another part of beneficiaries' food budget?

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