This week I had the opportunity to speak with Dorothy Gackstetter, from Graytown in Ottawa County. Ms. Gackstetter’s son, Scott, is developmentally disabled and relies on of Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, benefits. Their family is currently being penalized for doing the right thing, because of outdated government rules.
SSI is a program that helps eight million Americans who are elderly, blind, or disabled make ends meet. For 60 percent of recipients, these SSI benefits are their only source of income.
But right now, arbitrary and out-of-date restrictions prevent Ohioans from saving for emergencies and punish people who want to earn a little extra money to provide for themselves and their families.
If these Americans have even $1 more than $2,000 in their savings account for individuals, or $3,000 for couples, all their SSI benefits are taken away.
And this program hasn’t been updated in 30 years.
Look at what happened to Dorothy’s family. She and her husband took out a life insurance policy for Scott decades ago. Because Scott’s life insurance policy gained value, Dorothy was forced to transfer the policy out of Scott’s name, and Scott paid a penalty every month for going over the outdated $2,000 limit.
We shouldn’t be punishing Ohioans who do the right thing and save money for emergencies by taking away the money they rely on to live.
That’s why this week I held a hearing in the Senate Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy that I chair, on our plan to fix SSI and stop punishing the Ohioans who rely on this program when they work or save money. It was the first hearing on SSI in nearly 25 years.
We talked about my bill, the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act, that would update the limit on assets people who get SSI can have, raising them up to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for couples.
The bill would also let people earn up to $399 per month from working, and it would eliminate the current marriage penalty and increase benefits, so that these seniors and Ohioans with disabilities are not forced to live in poverty.
No one is getting rich off of these benefits. The average monthly benefit is just $585 for individuals. The most people can get is $794 – that’s less than minimum wage.
And we should be rewarding, not punishing people who want to earn a little additional income to provide for themselves and their families.
A wide array of groups who fight for Ohio seniors and workers are all supporting this bill, including AARP, Justice in Aging, AFL-CIO, UAW, and AFSCME.
For Scott and Dorothy and so many other Ohioans, we need to act now to fix these outdated restrictions and bring SSI into the 21st century.
Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) represents the state in the U.S. Senate.