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Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The federal and state governments now provide cash assistance to needy adults who are aged, blind, or disabled through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.  A person who is 65 years of age or older, legally blind, or permanently or totally disabled, and who meets prescribed income and resource requirements, can receive a basic federal cash grant of up to $264.70 per month.  In FY 1981, some four million persons received SSI payments, amounting to $8.3 billion in state and federal funds.  The states’ share, composed of mandatory and optional supplements, was approximately 22 percent, or $1.8 billion.

The SSI program (Title XVI of the Social Security Act) is administered by the federal government within the Social Security Administration.  This agency assumed responsibility for SSI in 1974.  Prior to that time, public assistance for the aged, blind and disabled was administered by the states as the adult counterpart to AFDC.  The federalization of the adult welfare categories mandated by P.L. 92-603, was designed, among other things, to reduce the variations in benefit levels among the states by providing a uniform national minimum cash benefit, and to streamline administration of the programs by lodging it in the existing social security system which had for many years ably managed the social insurance program. Though states were originally mandated to supplement the basic federal benefit up to the level of assistance they were providing in December 1973, and could provide optional supplements to higher levels, it was anticipated that state financial participation in SSI would decline over time as the federal benefit rose.

Actually, the Congress has effectively frozen some states into having to continue to supplemental SSI benefits.  This was achieved in 1976 under provisions of P.L. 94-566 which mandated the “pass-along” of increased federal SSI benefits to recipients. This change prohibits states from off-setting federal benefit increases by reducing their optional supplementation.  The law was enacted to assure that all SSI recipients actually received an increase in their total income when the basic federal grant is periodically adjusted for inflation.  A direct consequence is that the levels of SSI benefits still differ widely among states, eight years after the federal government took over the program.

While most states that supplement SSI benefits probably would have adopted such a pass-through policy anyway, several have questioned whether the federal government can legally mandate that they expend state funds.  For the states, the experience with SSI supplementation is a constant  reminder that what Congress proposes is not always consistent with the end result.


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