As we’ve written before, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) countable asset limit of $2,000 has not been raised since 1989. This is also the limit for MassHealth eligibility for residents of nursing homes. (Their spouses can keep $148,620 plus the family home.)
Increase the SSI Asset Limit
Ohio Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown have introduced a bill, S.4102 – SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act, to raise the limit to $10,000 and index it for inflation. In an editorial, “Don’t make it impossible for people with disabilities to save money,” The Boston Globe has put its weight behind this effort.
It tells the story of a beneficiary with development disabilities who cannot work unless he spends all his earnings because any savings would push him over the asset limit. (SSI also has income limits and it’s not clear how the individual featured in the Globe editorial was able to earn even a small amount and maintain his eligibility.)
As described in the editorial and our earlier post, there are work-arounds, such as using an ABLE account or special needs trust. But these are complicated, mean that disabled beneficiaries and their families must jump through many hurdles, and always put them at risk of losing their benefits. In some cases, especially when beneficiaries need personal care attendant services to get through the day, the loss of benefits can be life-threatening.
Increasing the asset limit to $10,000 would be one important step in loosening the restrictions so beneficiaries are no longer at constant risk of losing their benefits. This would allow them to accumulate some savings for larger expenses, whatever they might be — clothing, furniture, equipment, travel, moving expenses, or computers. It’s not a lot, but would allow some breathing room.
The Arc is campaigning hard for this change and provides an application on its website to facilitate contacting your senators and representative to urge them to co-sponsor the bill. You can access it here: https://action.thearc.org/h2VSk39
But That’s Not Enough
These severe asset and income limits along with their complicated rules reflect our government’s reluctance to support people in need. Efforts to weed out those who may not be entitled to support and to prevent fraud often mean long delays and denial of benefits to those who the programs are meant to assist. They also keep elder law and special needs planning attorneys in business since the rules are so complicated that families often must hire lawyers just to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
We need a new philosophy — that we should do everything we can to support those in need, make it as easy as possible, treat applicants with dignity, and not worry too much if a few people who may not quite fit within the rules somehow slip through the cracks.