Supplemental Security Income
Under the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI) the federal government provides payments to elderly, blind, and disabled individuals with low income. SSI replaced federally subsidized programs of state assistance that existed from 1936 through 1973 for these three groups. The administration of President Richard Nixon implemented SSI in 1972 and the program began in 1974. Funding for SSI comes from general federal revenues, and many states add to SSI benefits from their own revenues.
SSI programs take into consideration the income and resources of individuals and families to determine the amount of aid provided to recipients. Under the Social Security Act, the federal government also provides financial grants to the states to operate programs offering maternal and child health care, services to disabled children, child welfare services, and social services such as daycare for children of working mothers.
The government has relied on SSI as a check against the need to increase minimum Social Security benefits.
The government has relied on SSI as a check against the need to increase minimum Social Security benefits for the working and retired poor—people who have worked, but earned minimal wages. SSI programs act as an extra safety net for these people. Before SSI, a weighted benefit formula for Social Security payments provided proportionately much greater income replacement to lower-income workers, so that benefits did not relate closely to earnings. With SSI, Social Security benefits correlate more directly with earnings.
Despite the safeguards against poverty provided by SSI, the government cut back SSI programs in the early 1980s, during the administration of Ronald Reagan, and again in the mid-1990s, during the administration of Bill Clinton. These cutbacks were motivated by general budgetary constraints and by antiwelfare sentiments. Many people disapproved of the breadth of SSI coverage, which included legal aliens as well as people considered disabled because of alcoholism or drug addiction. SSI cutbacks in 1996 ended support for these groups of disabled people and for most noncitizens. However, critics charged that these reforms were too severe, because they threatened to leave many people in extreme poverty. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 restored SSI benefits to some groups of noncitizens.
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