WASHINGTON — Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has won a major Republican ally in his quest to improve one of the oldest social welfare programs in the United States.
This week, Brown teamed up with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to co-sponsor a bill updating the Supplemental Security Income Program, which provides benefits to nearly 8 million disabled Americans.
The program pays the average recipient less than $700 per month for meeting its strict eligibility criteria, which include a requirement that recipients have less than $2,000 in their bank accounts. The Brown-Portman measure, called the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act, would raise the asset limit for individuals from $2,000 to $10,000 and raise the inflation limit.
In a statement, Portman said price inflation particularly hurt low-income Americans.
“Yet the Supplemental Security Income Program that serves these vulnerable populations hasn’t been updated in decades and responsibly penalizes them for trying to protect,” he said.
Steve Senti, 62, in Washington, Illinois, said he received $. have been found737 per month in SSI payments since 2014. When he received stimulus checks for $1,200, $600 and $1,400 – which Congress authorized in response to the coronavirus pandemic – he rushed to get the money out of his bank account.
“I would have loved to leave that money in the bank for an emergency or something,” Senti told HuffPost. “I took it out and spent it. I think I went to a bar and spent part of it on a poker machine.”
Under federal law, stimulus checks were not supposed to count toward the $2,000 limit, but legal aid attorneys said last year that the Social Security Administration Some recipients were punished by mistake To be over $2,000.
If the Brown-Portman bill was enacted, it would be the first change to the property rule since 1989.
“I would have preferred to leave that money in the bank for an emergency or something. I took it out and spent it.”
– Steve Senti, 62
However, changing the law will not be an easy task. Brown tried unsuccessfully stop the remedy Democrats tried to write last year for a larger social spending bill, but Democrats abandoned the proposal before the bill collapsed. Its $8 billion cost is relatively low given the current spending outlook on Capitol Hill, but not much of a change.
Having a Republican on board makes the route a little more plausible. Brown and Portman said they would try to link their bill with larger legislation that could be passed by Congress in the coming weeks.
Portman suggested the measure would first need to be approved by the Senate Finance Committee, but said perhaps it could ride on a broader bill.
“I think it’s possible,” Portman said.
One reason Republicans may favor the change, as it stands, is the “marriage penalty” in the asset limit of Supplemental Security Income. The asset limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a married couple, meaning that a disabled couple who is not married may have $1,000 more in their bank accounts than a married couple.
“The marriage sentence in SSI is very clear,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Ok.), who asked about the penalty during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last year, told reporters Wednesday.
The Brown-Portman bill would increase the limit to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for married couples, eliminating the marriage penalty. Lankford said he would have to see the text of the bill, but he had been interested in addressing the penalty for years.
Brown has pushed for a broader bill to promote SSI’s meager benefits and limits on earned income, but said he’ll take whatever he can get in partnership with Portman.
“We do a lot of things together and we don’t agree on a lot of things,” Brown told HuffPost. “But it’s an important first step. It’s not nearly as much as I want to do eventually, but we’ll take that one step at a time.”