The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides an essential safety net for low-income people with disabilities and low-income seniors, assisting 8.1 million beneficiaries at an annual cost of $55 billion. While SSI significantly reduces the poverty rate for beneficiaries and their families, participants still have very modest incomes. Beneficiaries who attempt to increase their income and savings through work are limited by SSI earnings and asset rules that have not been indexed to keep up with inflation. Beneficiaries are also hampered by SSI’s failure to update other important program rules that regulate how family members can assist beneficiaries. These outdated rules and policies pose significant hurdles to beneficiaries and their families who attempt to save or work.
In this working paper, we focus on the largest share of SSI beneficiaries, nonelderly adults with disabilities ages 18 through 64. First, we consider the current status and features of the SSI program. We then examine program trends, reasons for past growth, and how the program interacts with other social safety net programs. Finally, we consider how SSI policies could be improved to better encourage work, especially part-time work, community engagement, and saving for emergency needs.