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Disability Programs in the 21st Century Series

February 8, 2009

The Disability Insurance program was enacted more than half a century ago, and the Supplemental Security Income program was enacted more than 35 years ago. Our economy and our society have changed in many ways since then, and the programs have not changed to keep pace with the world we now live in. We recommend that Congress re-examine these programs and what it wants to accomplish with the disability programs that SSA administers. The Social Security Advisory Board has begun a review of several aspects of these disability programs and we will publish our observations and findings in this special Issue Brief series. The first Issue Brief was originally published as the Advisory Board’s statement on the SSI program in May 2008.

The need to re-examine the SSI program

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was enacted in 1972 and began paying benefits in 1974. It replaced federal-state programs of OldAge Assistance, Aid to the Blind, and Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled. Since that time, the program has changed in ways that were not anticipated by Congress in 1972. Other programs have been enacted or amended that impact the same population. At the same time, some aspects of the SSI program have not changed over the years. After more than 35 years, it is time for the Congress to consider re-examining the SSI program. Congress should consider what it wants to accomplish with the SSI program, looking specifically at what an SSI check buys now and what Congress intends that it should buy. We recommend this review of the SSI program with due regard for budgetary concerns and the administrative complexity of the program. At a minimum, any changes to the program should avoid adding to that complexity; if possible, they should reduce it. The Social Security Advisory Board has begun a review of several aspects of the SSI program. In this statement, we discuss three specific aspects of the program that we think should receive a fresh look as part of a comprehensive legislative review:

  • benefit levels in households with more than
    SSI benefi ciary;
  • benefit levels for disabled beneficiaries; and
  • asset limits and excluded amounts of income.

Volume 1 Number 1
February 2009

Interactions between Supplemental Security Income and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families


Volume 1 Number 2
March 2009

Need for Review of the Supplemental Security Income Program’s Benefit Levels, Asset Limits, and Income Exclusions


Volume 2, Number 1
September 2010

The Representative Payee Program, September 2010