Margaret Davis has spent the past two months in the Salvation Army Center of Hope after she was unable to find an affordable accommodation.
Approximately $750 of her monthly income for the 55-year-old grandma comes from the federal government. So that she can put together enough money to rent an apartment, she is attempting to get by on only $50 in cash and $150 in food stamps per month.
Davis receives federal funding through the Supplemental Security Income program, which is notoriously difficult to qualify for but has been helping the elderly, the blind, and the disabled rise out of poverty in the United States for nearly 50 years. Despite this, Davis is homeless.
Davis's ability to work is restricted due to her need for frequent dialysis treatments for renal failure. Preparing to spend another night in the overcrowded shelter, she checked her phone to see if a doctor had requested that she have her left leg amputated.
I know my therapist is trying to get me to see the bright side, but there are times when all I want to do is kill myself and start again, Davis has admitted.
For those on Social Security Disability Insurance, losing their housing is a familiar risk. According to nonprofit lawyers, advocates for people with disabilities, and academic researchers, it has become increasingly difficult to assist recipients in making the transition from unstable living arrangements such as shelters, crime-ridden motels, and tent encampments, to more permanent, secure housing.
Rapid inflation and rent increases are to blame.
In spite of President Joe Biden's assurances that he will work to improve the program, SSI beneficiaries, campaigners, and others say this problem exemplifies how the program itself keeps millions of people in a cycle of homelessness and extreme poverty.
With one in four Americans experiencing some form of impairment, it is imperative that those who need it most have access to housing and other necessities through supplemental income. Medicaid is a federal-state program that helps low-income people pay for medical care and is automatically available to most SSI beneficiaries.
People who are blind, 65 or older, or who can prove they have a physical condition that would keep them from working for at least a year are all eligible for a monthly SSI payment, with the maximum amount being $841. On the other hand, there is a catch that makes it challenging for folks like Davis to imagine a brighter financial future. If the recipient has monthly income beyond $85, the benefit will be reduced. Those who save more than $2,000 risk losing their income and Medicaid benefits, which some see as a disincentive to saving.
Advocacy groups assert that the amount recipients receive has not kept up with growing rent expenses.
Davis claims that the amount she receives from the program every month is $60 more than the maximum amount available when she initially began getting the benefit 10 years ago. Zumper, which has been tracking rental prices since 2014, reports that the average Charlotte apartment now rents for $1,500 per month, which is almost 70% more than it did over a decade ago.
In 1972, when Congress first established SSI, it pledged that those who received the program would no longer have to exist on below-poverty-level salaries.
These days, the federal program is the primary source of income for nearly 8 million Americans.
For the past half century, both Republican and Democratic administrations in Congress have shied away from making significant modifications to the program. For instance, the $85 threshold for income from sources outside the home has never been updated for inflation.
Multiple requests for comment on how the rates are determined were ignored by the Social Security Administration, which manages the program.
During his 2020 presidential run, Biden promised to defend and increase economic stability for those with disabilities" by revamping SSI.
Delisa Williams, however, has been at the same homeless shelter as Davis for the past seven months. Her mental health is suffering as a result of the strain of living in the Salvation Army Center of Hope, and her physical health has been undermined by diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis.
Williams' only genuine hope of getting out was the $881 she received from SSI and the Social Security Disability Insurance program each month. The reality hit her quickly: there wouldn't be enough to cover the rent at most areas.
The United States is one of the industrialized countries where it is most difficult to qualify for disability benefits, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a global intergovernmental agency the United States helped establish to promote social well-being.
The time it takes to get disability payments after applying can range from months to years. Thousands of people starve to death or go bankrupt while they wait for aid. The United States Government Accountability Office conducted a study showing that between 2014 and 2019, over 48,000 persons declared bankruptcy while waiting for a verdict on a disability appeal. The same report also stated that over 100,000 people passed away while waiting between 2008 and 2019.
During the covid-19 outbreak, the Social Security Administration closed more than 1,200 field offices around the country and kept them closed for for two years, exacerbating an already dire situation.
Clients are often assisted by homeless shelters and other NGOs in submitting applications for the extra income in the hopes that it would be used to secure permanent housing. Social worker Rachael Mason of Greenville, South Carolina's Triune Mercy Center has practiced the art of managing client expectations.
My heart drops a little bit any time somebody shows here and says I want to pursue housing, Mason said. I have to be truthful and inform them it could be anywhere from a year to 3 years. Just renting a room in a house may eat up a person's entire paycheck.
This fall will mark the 50th anniversary of SSI, and lawmakers are debating whether or not to celebrate by making any necessary modifications to the program.
More than 40 legislators urged Biden and Harris in a letter sent in April 2021 to make reforms include raising cash benefits above the poverty level, increasing the amount recipients can save, and eliminating reductions for getting aid from loved ones. The letter argued that those on SSI, including the disabled and the elderly, are among the most vulnerable people in our society. If we ignore their needs during the cleanup, history will not forgive us.
To address this issue, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives has introduced the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act, which proposes increasing the current asset limit for SSI users from $2,000 to $10,000 for individuals and $3,000 to $20,000 for couples.
The woman whose leg may be removed, Davis, is doing her best to maintain optimism. To deal with her despair, she sought help from a therapist. In order to put together enough cash for a down payment on an apartment, she gave up smoking.
She answered, "I don't know," when asked if she had a timeline for leaving the shelter.
The preceding is a summary of an article that originally appeared on Headline Wealth.