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Time to update SSI

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Posted: 4 pm ET

Both the U.S. Senate and House are considering bills that would change the Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, program, updating it and making it a more secure lifeline for people older than 65 who don't qualify for Social Security retirement or who receive an inadequate amount.

The proposed Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2014 would update rules that haven't changed in more than 40 years. The bill would increase what the government calls "the disregard," the amount of income elderly poor can receive and still qualify for SSI. Currently, the disregard is the first $20 of Social Security retirement or other regular monthly income besides work. The proposal would raise the disregard to $110 a month. The bill also would increase the amount of resources that an SSI recipient could have from $2,000 to $10,000. This more generous amount would allow people to keep a small retirement planning nest egg or receive a small inheritance without losing their SSI.

"We hear many stories from consumer advocates about elderly SSI recipients who cannot pay for food or needed medical care because they exceeded the resource limit or received too much support from a family member and lost part or all of their benefits," said Kevin Prindiville, executive director of the National Senior Citizens Law Center, a nonprofit organization supporting this bill.

Under the best of circumstances, SSI isn't very generous. In 2014, it pays $721 per individual and $1,082 to a couple. Some states offer a small supplement as well. Even if you are older than 65, some income from work will be subtracted from the amount of money for which you are eligible. Supplemental Security Income is paid from the general fund -- not money that comes from payroll taxes -- but the program is administered by Social Security. You must be disabled or older than 65 to be eligible.

If you are receiving a small amount of Social Security retirement income, you may qualify for SSI as well. While you can't apply online, you can call a toll-free number to inquire about benefits. You might be more successful if you visit the Social Security office in person. Be sure to take along copies of your bank statements and information regarding your rent or other housing costs.

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