November 28, 2022

Disability is one of the strongest risk factors for food insecurity. In 2021, 28 percent of households that included an adult who was out of the labor force because of a disability were food insecure. This alarming rate is more than two and a half times the national rate of 10.2 percent.

To break the persistent link between disability and poverty — a root cause of hunger — the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) joined forces with the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative (DEJC).

One important opportunity to address poverty among people with disabilities — as well as older adults — is to strengthen the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program. SSI provides monthly cash support for millions of people who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or over with low incomes and limited resources.

SSI at a glance:

  • In October 2022, 6 million people participated in SSI.
  • The maximum benefit is $841 a month for individuals and $1,261 for couples in 2022.
  • The average monthly benefit for all recipients was $624 in October 2022.
  • SSI beneficiaries will receive an 7 percent cost of living adjustment for 2023.

October 30 marked the 50th anniversary of the SSI program. While SSI is a critical anti-poverty program, key improvements are needed if the program is to meet its original intent of ensuring that  people with disabilities and older adults in the United States “no longer have to subsist on below-poverty-level incomes.”

Likewise, improvements to SSI are needed to ensure recipients are not struggling to put food on the table. Of note, food insecurity rates are most prevalent among SSI recipients compared to recipients of other disability assistance programs.

Woefully outdated income and asset limits trap millions of disabled and older adults  participating in SSI in poverty. Income thresholds for program eligibility have not kept pace with inflation. Asset caps have not changed since 1989. Individuals are limited to $2,000 in assets, while for married couples, the limit is $3,000. Furthermore, SSI rules around income and earnings disincentivize work.

Another troubling provision is a draconian in-kind support and maintenance (ISM) rule that can lead to reductions in a person’s SSI benefit if that person receives food support from family and friends. The BidenHarris National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health flagged that the Social Security Administration (SSA) is developing rulemaking that would discontinue this practice. No longer considering food for ISM is expected to generally result in higher SSI payments for SSI recipients who receive food support from friends or family.

Alongside DEJC, FRAC is urging groups to champion the need to strengthen SSI. There is growing bipartisan and business momentum for improving SSI, including updating the program’s long outdated asset limits and indexing them to inflation.

FRAC urges organizations working to end hunger to:

  • Support SSA rulemaking to eliminate the current in-kind support and maintenance rule that allows for the counting of food support from family and friends in a SSI benefit determination.
  • Advocate — using the DEJC social media toolkit — to improve SSI so disabled and older Americans will not have to live in poverty or face hunger.