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How Americans with Disabilities Drive a Review of Major Benefits Programs

When Congress created supplementary security revenues in 1972, it left no doubt about its intent. program, Congressman wrote“It was designed to provide a positive guarantee that the country’s older, visually impaired and disabled people will no longer have to live on incomes below poverty levels.”

Today it helps to ensure the opposite.

The maximum annual benefit is $ 9,528, three-quarters of federal poverty levels. Payments will be reduced if the recipient’s external income exceeds $ 85 per month and will be canceled if the savings exceed $ 2,000. There are penalties for accepting groceries and shelters from loved ones. As a result, it is structurally difficult to participate in SSI and not live in poverty.

The shift took place over almost 50 years, and Congress was run by the Social Security Administration and did not make major changes to its program of servicing approximately 8 million Americans. For example, external income limits have never been updated due to inflation.

SSI recipients and supporters rarely overhaul the program as Democrats are now hashing the details of trillions of dollars spent wanting to go through budget adjustments without the need for Republican support. I’m looking at an opportunity.

It’s far from a guarantee. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat in Arizona, said this Wednesday that she would not support the entire $ 3.5 trillion package proposed by her party. And because her support and the support of West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin III are essential, the package depends on what they are willing to accept.

Republicans and some moderate Democrats are opposed to passing a package that will significantly increase the deficit, and if it needs to be reduced to get 50 votes, it’s about education, health care, climate change, etc. A huge number of proposals will compete. To include.

But New York Democrat Jamal Bowman called a virtual forum with supporters last week calling the state of the SSI program a “national scandal” and calling supporters the White House and parliamentary leaders. Prompted. “every day.”

Bowman is the lead sponsor of the Supplementary Security Income Recovery Act, which is advocated for inclusion in the settlement bill and is sought by the Chief Social Security Actuary. Estimate will cost $ 46 billion in 2022 And a total of $ 510 billion over the next 10 years. Above all, it will increase SSI payments to federal poverty levels and be an indicator of inflation. Allow external income of $ 500 or more per month without penalty. Raise the asset limit to $ 10,000. Eliminate penalties for “in-kind supply”, like friends providing shelter.

In a sense, the bill is just another example of a measure that was no longer a non-starter when the Democratic Party took control. But it is also the culmination of many years of work by people with disabilities that they have sought. Establish yourself As a block that can influence elections and make requests to elected officials.

“We were upset from the inside, but it was an outside group that actually put it into the Democratic mainstream agenda,” said the Senate’s main sponsor of the SSI bill, a similar law for many years. Senator Sherrod Brown of the Democratic Party of Ohio, who sponsors it, said. Alongside Congressman Raul Grijalba and the Democratic Party of Arizona. “When I was a Republican Senate and a president like Trump, they weren’t very active because they knew they weren’t very active at the end of the rainbow.”

Last month, advocacy groups helped organize a bicameral briefing (basically a presentation to Congressional staff) on SSI for the first time in more than 30 years. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has included the SSI change in the Democratic Priority draft list. “All signs show that the president is in favor,” Bowman said in a conversation with White House officials.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment, but President Biden approved the SSI change during the campaign. Without this, “I don’t think it was possible to see it on the hill,” Matthew said. Cortland, Senior Fellow of Data for Progress and leader of a campaign called # DemolishDisabledPoverty, is part of the promotion of SSI.

Other factors could be the massive impact of the pandemic on people with disabilities and older Americans and the increased collaboration between those groups.

Rebecca Vallas, Senior Fellow of the Century Foundation and Leader of #DemolishDisabledPoverty, describes her current efforts as “the logical next step in 2017 and 2018 when disability and senior communities gathered to fight rocksteps.” I called. To protect affordable care and Medicaid. “

Data for the foundation / progress of the century vote In May, bipartisan support was found to raise SSI payments to poverty levels. The Democratic Party is 91 percent, the Republican Party is 70 percent, and the error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Republican lawmakers are categorically opposed to the entire settlement bill, but are largely silent on the SSI’s proposal.

Jeffrey Miron, an economist at the Libertarian Cato Institute and Harvard University, said the measure was “fully rational for the purpose” and that the main point of the idealistic debate was the purpose itself. He added that SSI was not the main cause of the deficit.

“If you think the problem is that the program isn’t generous, increasing profits certainly addresses the problem,” Milon said. “It’s a much harder question whether it’s good overall, and whether a wide range of people agree that the program should be more generous.”

Beyond organizers such as Valas and former SSI beneficiary Courtland, current beneficiaries are beginning to talk about how program restrictions affect them.

Felix Guzman, an SSI recipient of autism and schizoaffective disorder, said higher payments cover speech therapy or communication devices for his 7-year-old son who is autistic and nonverbal. He said he could.

“The difference between waiting a month or two for an item that might help him communicate can make a difference whether he achieves a milestone of disability,” Guzman (39) said. ) Said.

Other beneficiaries say they can’t pursue meaningful work because they can cost money to cover SSI and the associated Medicaid if they don’t provide enough income and insurance to cover it. .. Some people want to test their ability to keep working, but don’t want to take the risk of being unreliable if they can’t.

“If you lose these benefits, it can be very difficult to regain SSI or Medicaid,” said Mia Ives-Rublee, director of the Center for American Progress’s Disability Justice Initiative, which relies on SSI in wheelchairs. Says. at University. “There is a real trap that you have to balance your health needs with your motivation and ability to work.”

The program can also discourage marriage, as spouse’s wealth counts as a couple’s wealth limit of $ 3,000, even if it’s thousands of dollars in a retirement account.

“The amount of profit we lose is thousands. It’s not something a normal spouse can afford,” she said, anonymously because she fears retaliation for speaking against the rules of the program she depends on. The disabled SSI recipient who spoke on the condition said. “Most of us, including me, aren’t married because they literally die. I’ll lose everything.”

The beneficiary once said that his bank account balance had unnoticed increased from just under $ 2,000 to $ 2,135 because he was ill and couldn’t leave home for two months and his daily expenses were reduced. When the Social Security Administration discovered, she had to repay her entire SSI profits for those months, which took two years.

The organizers of #DemolishDisabledPoverty also want Congress to increase funding for home and community-based services.Exclusion law This allows businesses to pay some people with disabilities much lower than the minimum wage. Renew Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). This is different from SSI, but with many similar limitations.

Melanie Waldman, 30, who has lupus, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and amputated arms, has been unemployed since she quit her job of “breaking my body.”She receives about $ 800 a month from SSDI

She has a theatrical background and said she wanted to pursue a role, but she had to demand lower wages. She is allowed an external income of $ 10,000 a year and earned about $ 13,000 from acting before joining SSDI. She can’t afford to lose health care, even if she pays less for SSDI.

Cortland said the current push is focused on SSI. This is because SSDI cannot be changed, whereas budget adjustments can change it.However, he emphasized in a virtual forum last week that supporters would also work to change SSDI.

The Century Foundation-sponsored forum was attended by Mr Bowman and Congressman Ayanna Pressley of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, calling for pressure on some 17,000 members.

“I know I’m preaching to the choir. As a granddaughter of a Baptist preacher, I have a reason,” Presley said. “That’s because I need a choir to sing.”

How Americans with Disabilities Drive a Review of Major Benefits Programs

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