No Annual Increases for SSI Recipients?

PsychOdyssey OpEd, December 22, 2010

The Social Security Administration recently sent letters to all its Supplemental Support Income (SSI) beneficiaries. It reports bad news. Since the Consumer Price Index “has not risen since the last cost-of-living adjustments”, there will be no increase in individual SSI payments. Or, as the Administration writes in its kinder, gentler, plain English way, “your SSI Federal benefit will stay the same in 2011.”

What? 2009. 2010. And now, 2011. In the past three years no cost of living adjustments for individuals on SSI? Those with psychiatric disabilities on SSI (and many also on Social Security Disability, or SSD) live at the absolute lowest rung of the American economic ladder. In New Jersey (with a small additional supplement from the State of New Jersey), the maximum monthly benefit coming from both SSI and SSD is currently $705 per month.

Consider the harsh reality of this. An 800 square foot efficiency apartment of very mediocre quality in elite Princeton, NJ rents for $800 per month. Maybe it would rent for $400 per month in the worst part of nearby impoverished Trenton. If a person with a psychiatric disability is not living in subsidized housing, how does such a person survive? He probably has to spend his nights in the Rescue Mission.

But maybe he does live in subsidized housing. If he is lucky to be in a facility charging only 30% of his income, and considering his $705 per month as his revenue, he would pay $211.50 for rent. But any abode fit for humans at that rental price is next to impossible to find. So he might be living in a local community’s “affordable” housing program, where rents, while cheaper than market rate, are a huge percent of a disabled “disposable” income. In one local example, a young man in Princeton with a psychiatric disability on SSI and SSD pays $388 per month for his rent, which amounts to 55% of his benefit income. That leaves $317 for all his other monthly expenses.

Can he live on his monthly balance? How much does such an individual have to pay for his monthly food? $400? 300? If he is lucky enough to have food stamp benefits, that would provide for about $200 per month. If he needs $300 per month for food, and has food stamps to cover $200, that leaves $100 of food costs, subtracted from his remaining $317. That leaves $217. From that must be paid: electric, telephone, personal transportation, clothing, etc., etc…

The absolute amount of benefit from SSI and SSD cannot nearly sustain those with psychiatric disabilities who are unable to work and have no other revenue sources or people to support them. To have no cost of living increases in SSI for three years compounds the cruelty. Maybe those on SSI should be given the same cost of living increases that public sector employee unions are able to negotiate each year.

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