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SSA disability dialog: SSI's roots.

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was born 17 years ago, with the passage of Public Law 92-603. It is especially vital to our nation's social well-being because it provides cash assistance to approximately 4.2 million elderly or disabled individuals who have meager resources. SSI replaced the federally assisted, state-administered assistance programs in order to provide a minimum income and to establish nationally uniform eligibility requirements.

The genesis of the program dates from the passage of the original Social Security Act of 1935, which authorized grants to the states for assistance payments to elderly or blind people and to needy children. In 1950, Congress also authorized similar payments to people with permanent disabilities.

The first federal grants under the public assistance provisions were made in February 1936, nearly four years before the start of monthly Social Security benefit payments. The federal government matched state and local expenditures up to specified maximum amounts for an individual.

From 1940 through early 1951, more elderly persons received old-age assistance payments than Social Security benefits. For more than a decade, the assistance payments were higher than retirement benefits. In 1949, the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit stood at $26; the assistance payment was $45. The reason for the disparity was that there were no cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security. Congress felt less restrained in voting cost-of-living adjustments for assistance payments, which were financed through general revenues. In addition, few changes were made in federal domestic programs in the 1940's due to the demands of World War II.

In 1950, expansion of Social Security coverage to self-employed persons and to regularly employed agricultural and domestic workers and an increase of benefit levels marked the start of a transition for the old-age assistance program to its intended permanent role: to provide income support for elderly persons who either do not qualify or qualify for only small monthly amounts of Social Security benefits. The proportion of the aged population receiving Social Security benefits climbed rapidly from 16% to 86% between 1950 and 1970, while the proportion of the elderly receiving old-age assistance dropped from 22% to 10%. Similarly, the assistance programs to blind and permanently disabled people changed to provide income support to persons who do not qualify for Social Security disability benefits or who qualify only for small monthly benefit amounts.

The major problem with these assistance programs prior to their consolidation/federalization under SSI was the wide difference in cash payment levels and in the definitions of various eligibility factors. These problems were effectively addressed by the enactment of SSI.

When the program became effective in January 1974, each eligible individual living in his or her own household received a monthly SSI payment that, when added to other countable income, brought total monthly income up to $140; for a couple, this amount was $210. These federal payment levels were higher than the July 1973 payment standards in 26 states for individuals and in 23 states for couples.

SSI legislation stipulated that anyone who received assistance payments under former programs could not receive lower benefits under the new SSI program. States that paid benefits higher than the federal SSI payments had to supplement the federal payment. All states were given the option of supplementing the payments of their SSI recipients and of administering the supplemental payments themselves or having the federal government do so.

When a state chooses the federal option, SSA maintains that state's payment records and issues the federal payment and the state supplement in one check. SSA assumes the cost of administering these supplements and is reimbursed by the state only for the amount of the supplementary payments. Twenty-two states have chosen this option.

Since 1975, federal SSI payments have been subject to cost-of-living adjustments at the same time and by the same percentages as Social Security benefits. the 4% cost-of-living adjustment that took effect in January 1989 brought the maximum federal SSI monthly payment for an individual to $368 and for a couple to $553.
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Title Annotation:Social Security Act; Supplemental Security Income
Author:Mather, John
Publication:PN - Paraplegia News
Date:Aug 1, 1989
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