Portman, Brown Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Reform Supplemental Security Income Program to Stop Punishing Americans for Saving for Emergencies


Senators Introduce First Significant Bipartisan SSI Legislation in More than 30 Years


May 3, 2022 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced the introduction of the Savings Penalty Elimination Act to update the asset limits for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries, which would enable beneficiaries to have more savings in case of an emergency without affecting their benefits. The senators’ bill, the first significant bipartisan legislation in decades, would bring the SSI program into the 21st Century and ensure disabled and elderly Ohioans are able to live with dignity.

An often-forgotten part of America's Social Security system, SSI is a federal program that provides vital income assistance to nearly eight million elderly and disabled Americans with low-incomes and limited resources, including over one million disabled children. 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.

“Rising costs and inflation is hurting all Americans, but especially our nation’s seniors and those with disabilities. Yet the Supplemental Security Income program that serves these vulnerable populations hasn’t been updated in decades and punishes them for trying to save responsibly,” said Senator Portman. “I am pleased to introduce this legislation with Senator Brown to update SSI’s restrictive asset limits and better meet the needs of vulnerable seniors and Ohioans with disabilities.”

“We shouldn’t be punishing seniors and Ohioans with disabilities who do the right thing and save money for emergencies by taking away the money they rely on to live,” said Senator Brown. “SSI’s arbitrary and outdated rules make no sense. Our bipartisan bill would update the old rules for the first time in decades and allow beneficiaries to save for emergencies without putting the benefits they rely on to live at risk.”

JPMorgan Chase & Co. recently published a study that suggests that current asset and income limits on federal benefits for people with disabilities create barriers to labor force participation and accumulating savings. Per the study, updating asset limits for SSI, as the senators’ Savings Penalty Elimination Act would do, would “expand economic opportunity and mobility for people with disabilities.”

“JPMorgan Chase is proudly a leading employer for people with disabilities, but outdated asset and income limits on federal benefits for this community create barriers to employment and career advancement, and restrict saving for education, retirement or unexpected expenses for these families. Updating and simplifying the asset and income limits for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will help expand economic opportunity and mobility for people with disabilities while advancing a more inclusive workforce,” said Jim Sinocchi, Managing Director, Office of Disability Inclusion, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The current SSI program hasn’t been updated since the 1980s, and punishes these Americans for working, saving for the future, and getting married. Right now, individuals getting SSI are limited to $2,000 in assets; for married couples it’s $3,000. The average current monthly benefit is $585 for individuals. For approximately 60 percent of recipients, SSI is their only source of income.

“People with disabilities across Ohio rely on SSI for access to Medicaid and to help them pay their everyday expenses. But outdated SSI rules prevent people from saving — trapping them in poverty. For the first time in decades, this bipartisan legislation would make long-needed reforms to SSI and ensure that people with disabilities can save more for emergencies and have a little bit more breathing room,” said Gary Tonks, President, CEO, The Arc of Ohio.

“SSI is nothing short of a lifeline for nearly eight million of the nation’s poorest seniors and disabled people. But because SSI has been left to wither on the vine for nearly 40 years, woefully outdated program rules now consign older and disabled beneficiaries to deep and enduring poverty, despite the fact that the program was intended to provide a pathway out,” said Rebecca Vallas, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation who leads the organization’s Disability Economic Justice Team. “By updating SSI’s asset limits for inflation for the first time since 1989, this historic bipartisan legislation represents a major step forward for SSI’s long-forgotten beneficiaries. Congress should act swiftly to pass this important legislation so that disabled and older Americans are no longer barred from saving and planning for the future.”

“It is long-past time for Congress to once again update SSI’s asset limits, which have become overly restrictive and prevent the accumulation of even modest personal savings,” said Bill Sweeney, Senior Vice President at AARP.

The senators’ Savings Penalty Elimination Act would:

  • Update the asset limits for SSI beneficiaries, enabling them to have more savings in case of an emergency without affecting their benefits.
  • The bill will amend those caps, which have not been changed since 1984, to $10,000 and $20,000, respectively, and index them to inflation moving forward.  

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