“In 2021, the maximum SSI benefit for an individual is $9,530.12 per year. The poverty line for a single person is $12,880 — meaning that SSI, at most, brings recipients up to less than three-quarters of the poverty line.
It gets worse, though. Let’s say you’re an SSI recipient married to another recipient, which makes you an “eligible couple.” You could both be retirees in your 70s, or disabled/blind people earlier in life.
You don’t get to add your benefit amounts together. Instead, you have to share a maximum benefit of $14,293.61, only 50 percent more than the individual benefit. The effect is a really dramatic marriage penalty: Two SSI recipients receive a large income boost if they get divorced, but those who marry take a big cut in benefits.
In late May 2020, Joe Biden announced his campaign’s disability policy platform, which included major expansions of SSI benefits. The plan set the maximum benefit at 100 percent of the poverty line, a 35 percent increase in benefits over the status quo. The proposal would also eliminate both the marriage penalty — letting couples keep their full benefits — and the complex “in-kind assistance” provisions that result in reduced SSI checks for some people who, say, live for free in a family member’s home.
There’s more. SSI is currently limited to people with assets of less than $2,000, or $3,000 for couples. That means many seniors who have even a small amount of retirement savings, as well as disabled people with nest eggs, aren’t eligible.
Biden would more than double the asset limit for individuals and nearly triple it for couples. I’d personally prefer getting rid of the asset test altogether, as it can encourage people to spend every bit of savings they have to qualify for the benefit; that said, raising it is an improvement.
Biden has recently faced a strong push from his allies in Congress to include these changes in the huge $6 trillion spending package Democrats plan to pass later this summer or in the fall.”