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Limitations on earnings can burden SSI recipients

There are 8.7 million Americans who collect benefits from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The cash benefit is intended to support the disabled and elderly who are unable to work. Recipients usually have little work experience and need the benefit to cover basic needs, including food, clothing and shelter. New studies suggest that the income caps on disability benefits recipients can prevent recipients from ever reaching financial security or middle-class status.

Recipients in Los Angeles, California and nationwide can lose benefits if they have an increase an income or even work part-time. For many disabled persons, the government is a necessity because they are unable to work a traditional full-time job, even if they could perform other jobs or take-part time work. Benefits recipients are also unable to take additional income or have savings accounts. This makes homeownership or owning a car nearly impossible.

The current model can be a burden because it limits the income level of disabled persons to just above the poverty line. Currently, the economic status of disabled persons is declining even as distributions from the program are expected to rise. By 2035, the federal government anticipates spending $60.9 billion in payments to 9.9 million people. Legislators and advocates have suggested modifying the program to provide supplemental security income on a flexible basis.

A modified structure would allow disabled persons to collect when they are unable to work and also given an option to work when a disability or illness allows. Currently, the only way to qualify for SSI is to demonstrate an inability to "engage in substantial gainful activity."

If you suffer from a disability or illness and are unable to work full-time, it is important to consult with an advocate who can help you collect the full benefits you are entitled to and prevent delays or denials.

Source: New York Times, "The Disability Trap," Julie Turkewitz and Juliet Linderman, Oct. 20, 2012

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