Some disabled people receive SSI or Supplemental Security Income which is a small monthly payment to help with living expenses. Unfortunately, SSI has an asset cap of $2,000 for a single person and $3,000 for a married couple. SSI often is spent on rent or utilities, which leaves very little money left over, and you cannot save money.
My Medicaid insurance is also tied to my SSI benefits. I rely on Medicaid to pay for my PCA services which allow me to live in my community. Without Medicaid paying for my PCAs would be untenable, at over $50,000 a year. I would end up bankrupt trying to stay alive.
As someone who lives with Cerebral Palsy, I am all too familiar with asset limits. I am one of the approximately eight million SSI beneficiaries in the United States. Living with a disability is very expensive. Disabled people often need a wheelchair-accessible van, medications, bath and shower chairs, and other specialized equipment and services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Health insurance often covers some of these costs but not always.
According to the National Disability Institute, researchers estimate that households containing an adult with a disability require, on average, 28 percent more income (or an additional $17,690 a year for a family at the median income level) to obtain the same standard of living as a comparable household without a member with a disability.
There are some ways around the asset limits, but they come with caveats. Special Needs Trusts can be established, but they don’t use a disabled person’s resources. There are also special accounts known as ABLE accounts. Money in an ABLE Account can be used on anything that is considered a qualified disability expense which includes expenses related to housing, healthcare, food, and education, among other things.
However, there are tax penalties if you use the funds for a nonqualified expense which includes buying gifts for other people or going on a vacation. Disabled people should have a way to pay for vacations and other expenses just like their non-disabled peers. The government doesn’t keep meticulous track of what non-disabled people spend their money on.
Disabled people should be allowed to save money just like anyone else does. Removing the asset limits associated with programs such as Medicaid and SSI is one way to do this. The government shouldn’t make it so hard for disabled people to achieve financial independence.
Altiraifi, Azza. “A Deadly Poverty Trap: Asset Limits in the Time of the Coronavirus.” Center for American Progress, Center for American Progress, 7 Apr. 2020, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/disability/news/2020/04/07/482736/deadly-poverty-trap-asset-limits-time-coronavirus/.
Goodman, Nanette, et al. “The Extra Costs of Living with a Disability in the U.S. — Resetting the Policy Table.” National Disability Institute, National Disability Institute, Oct. 2020, http://www.nationaldisabilityinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/extra-costs-living-with-disability-brief.pdf.
“How Can Funds Be Used?” ABLE National Resource Center, ABLE National Resource Center, 10 Feb. 2021, https://www.ablenrc.org/get-started/what-can-funds-be-used-for/.
“Number of Recipients, 1974–2020.” Social Security Administration, Social Security Administration, 1 Dec. 2020, https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/chartbooks/fast_facts/2021/fast_facts21.html.
Ruffenach, Glenn. “Special-Needs Trusts: How They Work and What Has Changed.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 3 June 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/special-needs-trusts-how-they-work-and-what-has-changed-11622743200.