Supplemental Security Income was started in 1972 as a last-resort cash assistance program for low-income people who have a disability or are age 65 or older. It provides a small income to those who are limited in how much they can work because of age or disability and who lack savings to fall back on.
Some limit is justified. But the current SSI asset limit is far too low. Under federal law, any individual who accumulates savings of $2,000, or $3,000 for a married couple, becomes ineligible for assistance. (A person’s home, car, household goods, and certain financial resources like burial funds are excluded.)
The asset limit has not been updated since 1989, and it makes saving for an unexpected expense nearly impossible. Someone can get stuck in a bad living situation because they cannot save enough to move into a new apartment that requires paying first and last month’s rent and a security deposit. A recipient can’t save to pay for a college class or fix a car.
If a recipient saves more than $2,000 and still gets benefits, the government tries to claw back the money as an overpayment. Kate Lang, director of federal income security for Justice in Aging, said often the Social Security Administration will get data from a bank account and flag money that should not count toward the asset limit, like a recent tax refund. The burden is then on the recipient to appeal.
“We see a lot of administrative churn because of the low asset limit,” Lang said.