Home Aarp Democrats have a crazy idea: How about ending poverty for disabled and elderly Americans?

Democrats have a crazy idea: How about ending poverty for disabled and elderly Americans?

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Yet another item out of the line from the Progressive Democratic Ideas Factory: Now that the monthly payments for the expanded Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan are set to start reducing child poverty, how about we fix other parts of it as well. the social safety net? Also, how to increase the benefits of Supplemental Security Income (SSI? Go to read this excellent explainer from Dylan Matthews on Vox, which draws attention to a part of the safety net that many people don’t know much about, unless they need it. And millions of Americans, 7.8 million, do.

Honestly, even though we knew what SSI is, we had no idea how the program came about:

It was became law in 1972 after Richard Nixon tried and failed to get Congress to adopt his “guaranteed annual income” plan, essentially a type of unconditional basic income that would have given America’s poorest households a guaranteed cash benefit.

Yes, you just read “Richard Nixon” and “unconditional basic income” in the same sentence. Conservatives in Congress rejected it, but accepted two smaller programs, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and SSI, which have become key parts of the federal anti-poverty toolkit.


Most people have heard of the EITC, if only because it is a 1040 line that they do not qualify for because they do not live in poverty. The EITC helps poor working families with a tax refund, and because many people have such low incomes to begin with, it can even reduce your income tax liability to zero.

Ranty’s digression: The EITC is the source of the right-wing lie that “people who don’t pay taxes get refunds,” even though those people do pay payroll, Social Security, and other taxes. Remember, whenever you hear someone say that shit, remind them that St Ronald Damn Reagan called the EITC “the best measure against poverty, the best pro-family, the best measure of job creation to come out of Congress.”

Ahem. The other lesser-known anti-poverty measure that emerged from the failure of Nixon’s basic income plan was SSI, which aimed to help people the EITC couldn’t, because they are not working because they are retired, disabled, or blind. (Matthews explains that blindness is “a different category than ‘disabled’ for legal purposes.” Laws are rare.)

Bottom line: SSI was meant to help people in those categories avoid poverty, but it has never quite done it. So since we’re in a New Deal mood these days, maybe we should fix that!

Here’s the deal:

In 2021, the maximum SSI benefit for an individual is $9,530.12 by year. The poverty line for a single person it is $ 12,880 – means that SSI, at most, brings beneficiaries below three-quarters of the poverty line.

However, it gets worse. Let’s say you are an SSI beneficiary married to another beneficiary, which makes you an “eligible partner.” Both could be retired at age 70 or disabled / blind earlier.

You cannot add up your benefit amounts. Instead, you must share a maximum benefit of $ 14,293.61, just 50 percent more than the individual benefit. The effect is a truly dramatic marriage penalty: Two SSI recipients receive a large increase in income if they divorce, but those who marry receive a large reduction in benefits.

Well, a lot of that just doesn’t seem right or fair. Additionally, there are currently strict limits on the amount of assets a person can have to qualify for SSI: just $ 2,000 for an individual or $ 3,000 for a couple. Perversely, that works against people who have managed to save a little for retirement, or disabled people with more than a little savings. This is America: we don’t want the poor to be too comfortable, because then they could have luxury items like a refrigerator or even a Color TV.

Joe Biden included reforms to SSI as part of his disability policy plan, so this doesn’t come out of nowhere. Biden called for the maximum SSI benefit to be set at 100 percent of the federal poverty line, which would increase it 35 percent from where it is now. Biden’s plan would remove that marital penalty as well, so hooray for family values ​​or at least a little fairness. It would also throw “the complex ‘assistance in kind’ provisions that result in reduced SSI checks for some people who, say, live in a family member’s home for free. ”

On the asset side, says Matthews,

Biden would more than double the asset limit for individuals and almost triple it for couples. Personally, I’d rather ditch the asset test entirely, as it can encourage people to spend whatever savings they have to qualify for the benefit; That said, raising it is an improvement.

Without a doubt, Ted Cruz would find a way to turn that into a “scandal.” But fuck it.

More good news: As Democrats prepare the big reconciliation bill that claims to contain most of the stuff in Biden’s American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, Democrats in Congress are pushing to include SSI renewal. as part of it. That effort is being led by Representative Jamaal Bowman, the newly elected Congressman from New York, and veteran Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Others who have signed include Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who chairs the Budget Committee. Saaay, who is leading the preparation of the reconciliation bill? That would be Bernie.

The reforms have the support of all the groups you would expect, from AARP to trade unions and disability rights groups. And like the changes to the Child Tax Credit, SSI reform can lift a little out of poverty, which could be a very good thing for Democrats to run in the next two elections.

Urban Institute estimates that the combination of SSI changes and other Social Security reforms that Biden has proposed would lift 1.4 million older or disabled people out of poverty in 2021. While increasing SSI alone would do less, it would still be an important step forward for affected people.

And in a year in which we learn that the wealthy are legally avoiding taxes to a greater extent than anyone but their lawyers and accountants imagined, and the IRS does not have the resources to collect all the taxes that are actually owed. even without the gaps. , we are not betting that there is probably a huge public pushback to improve SSI. Republicans can invoke the national debt and Fox News can sputter. But disabled people, who built greater political power in the Democratic coalition while fighting 2017 the attempt to kill Obamacare, you are not likely to miss this. It is time to fulfill the nearly 50-year commitment that no one should live in poverty because they are elderly or disabled.

And now, your OPEN THREAD!

[Vox / Time]

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