Sen. Sherrod Brown renews effort to raise asset limits for Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries

Cleveland.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown on Wednesday renewed his longtime effort to raise the cap on assets that people who get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits can have by introducing legislation that would let them accumulate $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for couples.

Currently, the federal financial assistance program for elderly, disabled and blind Americans with low incomes and limited resources doesn’t allow recipients to have assets of more than $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a married couple - an amount set in 1989. Brown says those “arbitrary and out-of-date” restrictions prevent SSI recipients from saving for emergencies, and can lead to hunger and homelessness.

“We shouldn’t punish Ohioans who do the right thing and save money for emergencies by taking away the money they rely on to live,” Brown told reporters.

The “Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act” that Brown has been introducing since 2014 would also let SSI recipients earn up to $399 monthly, indexed to inflation, without sacrificing benefits. He says SSI recipients who want to earn extra money to support themselves and their families should be rewarded rather than penalized. His legislation would also repeal benefit penalties for marriage and for individuals who live in households with others, and grant recipients the ability to receive up to $123 monthly, indexed to inflation, in assistance from sources including pensions and veterans’ benefits without reducing their SSI payments.

Currently, monthly SSI benefits average $558 for individuals, with a maximum monthly individual benefit of $771, and a maximum benefit of $1,157 for couples. SSI is the only income source for roughly 60 percent of recipients. His legislation is backed by a variety of groups that advocate for the interests of the elderly and those with disabilities, including AARP and Easter Seals.

Dorothy Gackstatter of Ottawa County said her developmentally disabled son’s SSI benefits were docked after an insurance policy bought for him at birth grew in value. The family had to remove the policy from her son’s name, which diminished its worth.

“I felt it was unjust,” said Gackstatter. “It should never have happened. I’m glad somebody’s paying attention to it and trying to get something done.”

Brown said he hopes his proposal will eventually be included in a broader tax bill. He expects his legislation will be referred to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration. A similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

“I think the majority of my colleagues in both parties understand that this hasn’t been fair and what happened to Mrs. Gackstatter could happen to other people in their states,” said Brown. “Just the fact that (the limit) hasn’t been raised in 30 years is significant.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown renews effort to raise asset limits for Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries »