SSI benefits keep disabled people and seniors in poverty

A congressional budget reconciliation bill, which is not supported by Republicans, could substantially improve the mess that millions of Supplemental Security Income recipients face daily by increasing benefits and updating how much money they can save. 

The program has caused many disabled people to live in forced poverty and in fear of getting a job or saving money. The supplemental benefits are meant to help elderly, blind and disabled people who struggle financially.

But many disability experts and advocates said it's a hopelessly flawed system.

"It's a very weird system that punishes people for trying to work," said Eileen Crumm of Family Resource Navigators. Added Robin Earth of the Center for Independent Living,"It pushes people into poverty where it was a program initiated to help people not be in such dire situations with poverty."

The federal government can cut off the benefits of 10 million SSI recipients if they accumulate more than $2,000 in their bank accounts.

"You can own your home and your car and still get SSI. Right? It's income that's the issue," said Crumm. 

SEE ALSO: How federal rules make it impossible for people with disabilities to save for future

Recipient Charis Hill, a disabled freelance writer, said they know the struggle.

"My house is falling apart. It needs about $50,000 in repairs because I purchased it ‘as is’ and I'm not able to save money to pay for those repairs," said Hill.

Money received as gifts could also be counted as income.

"They tell you that you're supposed to report your gifts, like your birthday gifts. That is so ridiculous. Right? Why would I report a gift? Like I'm not using that to live," said freelance worker Madison Parrota.

Crumm added, "People tell me they got turned down because they had all the baby's money, all the birthdays, all the Christmases, all the holidays put in one account and they couldn't get it as a result of that."

Keep up with the news by downloading KTVU's news app and subscribing to our newsletter

The $2000 limit, which was set 32 years ago, is less than half of what it's worth today. Their healthcare is also at risk because SSI is linked to Medi-Cal. That created a more expensive premium for Charis Hill.

"It averages at like $600. That's over half of my income and I had no choice but to stop working immediately," Hill said.

Advocates said, people with disabilities are already so marginalized, more common sense needs to apply.

This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.