Working beneficiaries of S.S.I. generally keep their first $85 in income each month, after which they lose $1 in benefits for every $2 of earnings, what amounts to a 50 percent marginal “tax rate.” Receiving food and shelter from family or friends cuts the amount of the benefit by one-third. Beneficiaries are prohibited from saving more than $2,000. This limit has been the same since 1984.
Beneficiaries can keep additional assets and income by setting up a Plan to Achieve Self Support — a written plan that must be submitted to and approved by the agency — but doing so is sufficiently complex that only 568 people in the entire country made use of this option in 2018. Nor are benefits so generous that recipients have no need to work — the monthly federal S.S.I. payment for 2020 was a mere $783. While many states supplement this, recipients still face terrible poverty.
A ‘Safety Net’ That’s a Kafkaesque Mess
The Supplemental Security Income program, on which millions of disabled Americans depend, is daunting by design.