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Poverty Thresholds Call for Supplemental Security Income Restoration

Let’s do some math! Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. At 40 hours per week, full time employment under the federal minimum rate equates to $290 per week, or $15,080 per year. Although some states, cities, and counties have a higher minimum wage rate, the federal rate has not increased since July 2009.

What have been increasing are the federal poverty levels. Each January, the Department of Health and Human Services updates the federal poverty guidelines, directly based on Census Bureau poverty thresholds. The poverty threshold for a single person household in most states was set at $12,490 per year (approximately $1,041 per month) in 2019.

If your household meets the poverty threshold and you are also unable to work due to a disability, you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. However, standard payment amounts for SSI start well below the poverty threshold and are far less than minimum wage levels. The federal government pays a base rate of $771 per month and may increase or decrease payments based upon household dependents or additional resources. Last year, the average SSI payment for an adult was $536 per month.

Although a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) can increase SSI benefits each year they are given (some years do not have COLAs), such adjustments generally do not keep pace with inflation. Additional increases are necessary to directly account for the general rise in prices and the fall of purchasing power. The last direct adjustment took effect in July 1983. The Supplemental Security Income Restoration Bill of 2019 seeks to directly account for inflation adjustment by applying a Consumer Price Index quotient directly to payment amounts, effectively increasing the amount of benefits paid, though payments will still not rise above the poverty thresholds.

The Bill also seeks to expand eligibility for SSI by increasing the amount of general income and resources a recipient may exclude before spend-down rules decrease their payments. Though not a long-term solution to poverty, such an expansion should be a welcome improvement to recipients of SSI benefits.

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