This article was originally published by The Hill on December 17, 2022.

Restrictive asset rules make financial security and independence hopelessly out of reach for individuals and families that need them the most. While middle-class households often have cash reserves and other investments they can rely on in times of need, many of those receiving welfare benefits are forced to maintain minimal savings due to strict asset tests. As a result, programs intended to provide a solid financial foundation proceed to trap recipients in untenable situations.

Fortunately, there is a chance this December to help millions of impacted Americans in the form of the Savings Penalty Elimination Act, introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). This bill would reform antiquated eligibility rules for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)–cash benefits provided to 7.5 million disabled and elderly individuals with low income and low wealth. Ideally, Congress would incorporate the bipartisan legislation into an end-of-year spending package, bringing SSI recipients some long-needed, albeit modest, relief.  

Unlike Social Security benefits, which are based on prior work history, access to SSI is determined by medical criteria and stringent income and asset requirements. To be eligible, individuals must hold $2,000 or less of savings and resources simply converted to cash (it’s $3,000 for couples), excluding one’s home, a car, essential household items, and key personal possessions.

Such rules may appear reasonable at first glance, as they target assistance to those in the most dire situations. In reality, the asset limits are arbitrarily low, and place financial support and independence out of reach for many people. The $2,000 cap, which constitutes a mere five percent of the median households’ non-housing wealth, has remained unchanged since the 1980s. This outdated requirement hurts both people enrolled in SSI and those on track to qualify due to health issues.

Read the full article here.