Governor’s Budget fails to lift SSI recipients out of poverty

On Tuesday Governor Brown revealed a conservative 2016-17 Budget Proposal that maintains recession-era cuts to the vital Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program. SSI is a very basic income available to blind, disabled, and aged individuals who have limited or no income and resources. The maximum grant for an individual is just 90% of the federal poverty line.

Despite steady economic growth and a healthy state budget reserve, the Governor’s proposal fails to make desperately-needed investments in SSI to allow seniors and people with disabilities to share in the state’s prosperity.

The maximum SSI benefit for an individual is only $895/month, which is barely enough to afford rent – let alone food – in the Bay Area. Because SSI recipients are ineligible to receive CalFresh nutrition assistance benefits, most rely heavily on food banks, sometimes as their only source of nutrition.

“There are days when I only have bread to eat,” says Toni, an SSI recipient from Concord.

Toni says she wouldn’t have even that if it weren’t for the groceries and hot meals she receives from the Food Bank distribution at her local church. She receives just $909 each month in SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance. After paying $870 in rent for her small apartment, Toni must choose whether to spend her remaining $39 on medication, transportation, or toiletries. “You have to pay all the other bills first. Food has to be last.”

After 10 years without a state-funded increase to SSI, advocates successfully negotiated a one-time cost of living adjustment through last year’s state budget process. The 2.67% increase to the state’s contribution is an important step towards restoring benefits, but it is nowhere near enough to lift California’s 1.3 million SSI recipients out of poverty.

Lisa, an SSI recipient from Bay Point, saw her income rise just $5 this year. “Five dollars means that I can maybe afford to do two loads of laundry,” she says. “I still don’t have enough money to survive. We have gone without food for days… I can’t afford even the minimum.”

The 2016-17 state budget can and must reinstate SSI benefits to their pre-recession levels and add a meaningful cost-of-living adjustment so that no one has to suffer the indignity of hunger.

“I wish there was a way for me to talk to Governor Brown myself,” says Lisa. “Do you think he knows what it’s like to worry about a bill so much it gives you a stomachache first thing when you wake up every morning?”