Amy Smith, an OK Policy Summer Policy Institute alumna, is a graduate student in Disability Studies and an intern in the LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) program at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She lives in Ada with her husband and the three of her four children who haven’t yet flown the coop.
Most all of us understand the importance of saving money for the future, and that understanding leads many of us to take advantage of tax-free savings and retirement plans such as 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, and 529 college savings plans. But for the 4.5 million disabled adults relying on SSI (Supplemental Security Income) payments, saving money for the future has been discouraged until the recent passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act.
That’s because SSI has an asset cap: if recipients have more than $2,000 in assets (including savings), they lose their benefits. This cap makes SSI different from traditional Social Security payments, which are reduced if income or savings exceed a certain amount. With traditional Social Security payments, you still get the benefit, but it’s smaller as your assets increase. But SSI benefits are not adjusted down; they are simply cancelled if you exceed the asset cap.
Living under this asset cap made it impossible for SSI recipients to do something as simple as save up the money required to move into their own apartments, for example. $2,000 isn’t always enough to cover first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit for someone trying to move into their own apartment. It also doesn’t allow much for furniture, daily transportation, or out-of-pocket medical expenses. Saving for an emergency was out of the question. Staying under the $2,000 limit created a “spend-down” mentality where money had to be spent on something, anything, in order to keep receiving critical benefits.
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