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Sen. Warren Calls for Reforms to Social Security SSI Rules

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What You Need to Know

  • The maximum monthly SSI benefit is $841 in 2022. The average benefit is below $600, Warren said.
  • The most a recipient can earn in income before losing benefits is $65 a month.
  • The SSI Restoration Act would include raising the benefit rate.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said Thursday that Supplemental Security Income, a part of Social Security, needs to be reformed and called for passage of the SSI Restoration Act, saying outdated rules “have trapped” four out of 10 recipients in poverty.

During a hearing held by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, which focused on financial literacy, Warren said that while financial literacy is important for those “trying to make key decisions like planning for retirement,” for low-income families “navigating a thin social safety net that gives them too little help, all the education and counseling in the world can’t magically make 2 + 2 add up to 10.”

SSI “provides a critical lifeline for 8 million low-income elderly and disabled Americans, including over 1 million disabled children and the families that care for them,” Warren said. “But right now, our rules are outdated, they’re punitive, and they squeeze way too many struggling families out of this program and trap about four out of 10 recipients in poverty.”

“The maximum monthly SSI benefit — maximum — is $841 in 2022,” Warren said. “The average benefit is below $600.”

Warren asked Cindy Hounsell, president and founder of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, who testified at the hearing, if $600 a month is “adequate to live in financial security, and save for retirement?”

Responded Hounsell: “Thanks, Senator, for covering that issue. No, it’s not in any way adequate. Obviously, it’s only half of the poverty level for elders.”

The most a recipient can earn in income before losing benefits is $65 a month, Warren said.

“Additionally, collecting more than $20 a month in Social Security would reduce SSI benefits. SSI beneficiaries are not allowed to have more than $2,000 in savings, including in retirement accounts. Married recipients also receive lower SSI benefits and have additional asset limits. SSI recipients can even be punished for receiving groceries from a friend, or housing from family,” she said.

“After decades of ignoring this problem, it’s time for Congress to make reforms to SSI,” Warren said.

She noted that she’s working with Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to pass the SSI Restoration Act, which she said would raise the SSI benefit rate and revise rules that effectively serve as barriers to saving, achieving  financial independence and getting married.

“Including even just $8 billion in the Build Back Better Act to raise SSI asset limits, or $11 billion to raise the earned income disregard, would be a significant down payment on economic justice for SSI recipients and one more reason to pass Build Back Better,” Warren said.