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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

SSI Is Broken

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. According to the Social Security Administration: "Many parents and caretakers of children with disabilities lose work hours and income because of their children’s care needs. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides monthly financial support to low-income families with children who have developmental and behavioral disabilities. This includes ASD – and physical impairments."

At NPR, Joseph Shapiro reports on the broken Supplemental Security Income program:
NPR interviewed roughly 200 people, including those who depend upon SSI, lawyers who help them, experts who study SSI and poverty, Social Security officials, staff and others. Among our findings:

—SSI’s asset limit and other rules are so out of date that many of the poorest Americans — who most need SSI — are excluded from the program.

—Largely because of the asset limit, SSI sends out benefit checks to impoverished beneficiaries, but then often, months or years later, tells them there’s been a mistake and that they need to pay back the money, which it calls “overpayments.”

—SSI’s asset limit and other rules impose a substantial “marriage penalty” on recipients, forcing many to skip marriage or lose benefits when they do marry.

—For many, the marriage penalty comes with even more calamitous results than losing a monthly benefit check. Many beneficiaries depend on the Medicaid eligibility that is automatic in most states for someone who qualifies for SSI, but then risk losing Medicaid if they marry.

—Social Security is not up to the task of administering such a complex system. After years of budget constraints imposed by Congress, it is understaffed and hurt by an antiquated computer system and the extreme administrative burden of calculating the asset limit and other SSI rules.

Today, 7.4 million people receive those monthly SSI benefits.

Only 43% of those who apply get accepted for SSI. A Social Security Administration office determines whether an applicant meets the asset limit. A state “disability determination service” officer determines whether the person’s disability is significant enough to limit work and other basic life activities.

The wait times to get approved for disability benefits are long — almost doubling during the pandemic when Social Security closed its offices. One congressional report found that some 10,000 people die every year while they wait to get on SSI or a disability program for people with work history.

Of those who collect SSI benefits, 84% are eligible because of a significant disability. There are 1 million children who receive SSI benefits. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1990 expanded eligibility for children. Policy changes in 1984 expanded eligibility for people with mental illness.