June 18, 2021

Wyden, Merkley Co-Sponsor Legislation to Update Safety Net Program to Ensure Older Adults and Oregonians with Disabilities are not Trapped in Poverty

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today with Senate Democrats re-introduce legislation to bring the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program into the 21st Century and ensure disabled and elderly Americans are able to live with dignity.

Supplemental Security Income was created to provide a lifeline for people in Oregon and across the nation in dire need of making ends meet,” Wyden said. “But receiving benefits should not have to be a vow of poverty. It’s time to prioritize these long-overdue, common sense reforms to SSI so that Americans are able to live with dignity, no matter their age or ability.”

“For decades, Supplemental Security Income for seniors with disabilities has meant the difference between keeping the lights on and putting food on the table on the one hand, and missing payments and going hungry on the other. But as basic living costs have continued to rise, supplemental security payments have stagnated, leaving tens of thousands of Oregonians at risk of slipping into poverty,” said Merkley. “We can’t accept a reality where the most basic needs of human beings in our communities are not being met. So let’s work together to pass this desperately needed reform, and ensure that every senior with a disability can be healthy and thrive.”

An often-forgotten part of America's social safety net, SSI is a federal program that provides vital income assistance to nearly 8 million elderly and disabled Americans with low-incomes and limited resources, including over 1 million children with disabilities. 88,000 people in Oregon received SSI in December 2020, including 10,000 people under age 18.

For approximately 60% of recipients, SSI is their only source of income. But due to decades of shameful federal neglect, the program now consigns millions to deep and enduring poverty, when it should instead offer a lifeline out of it.

The SSI Restoration Act would:

  • Raise SSI's sub-poverty-level monthly benefits, currently $794 per month, to 100% of the federal poverty level--a 31% increase--and index them to inflation;
  • Update and index the assets individuals or couples may have up to $10,000 and $20,000, respectively. The current limit of $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple has not been updated since 1989;
  • Update and index SSI's income rules to allow individuals to earn up to $399 a month from working, and up to $123 a month in assistance from other sources: including Social Security, veterans’ benefits, and pension payments without being subject to a benefit reduction. These reforms will reward, not penalize, SSI recipients who want to earn additional income to provide for themselves and their families;
  • Eliminate the marriage penalty and increase the benefit for married couples to double the individual rate, to put marriage equality within reach for SSI beneficiaries; and
  • Eliminate benefit reductions that penalize beneficiaries who receive in-kind help from friends or family, such as groceries or a place to stay.

This bill is led by Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and, along with Wyden and Merkley, is cosponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Robert Casey, D-Pa., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Tina Smith, D-Minn.