Assembly Proposal to Substantially Boost SSI/SSP Grants Gets First Committee Hearing Next Week

Amid persistent concerns about our state’s lack of affordable housing and high rates of poverty, California lawmakers will soon consider a bill that would increase basic monthly income for the more than 1 million seniors and people with disabilities who struggle to get by on sub-poverty-level assistance. Assembly Bill 1584 (Brown) will be heard by the Assembly Human Services Committee next Tuesday, March 29, in Room 437 of the state Capitol.

AB 1584 seeks to reverse recent state cuts to Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) grants, which are funded with both federal (SSI) and state (SSP) dollars. These cuts included eliminating the annual state cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and reducing the state’s SSP portion to the minimum level allowed by federal law. As a result, the maximum SSI/SSP grant for individual recipients dropped below the federal poverty line in 2009, and the current maximum grant for individuals — $889 per month — equals just 90 percent of the poverty line. (Grants for couples have remained above the poverty line despite the state cuts.) SSI/SSP recipients aren’t eligible for federal food assistance through CalFresh, so they must use their limited grants to pay for groceries along with rent and other necessities.

AB 1584 would require the state to significantly reinvest in SSI/SSP grants by making two related changes. The bill would:

  • Require a two-step increase to the state’s SSP portion in order to bring the full SSI/SSP grant for individuals up to poverty line. By January 1, 2018, the total SSI/SSP grant for individuals would be equal to 100 percent of the poverty line.
  • Restore the state COLA in 2017. Reinstating this annual adjustment would help ensure that SSI/SSP grants provide a modestly rising income that both keeps up with increases in California’s cost of living and lifts recipients a little bit further above the poverty line each year.

The policy changes envisioned by AB 1584 likely would boost state spending on SSI/SSP by an amount that would approach, if not exceed, $1 billion per year at full implementation. (Official estimates are not yet available.) An increase of this magnitude would make a huge difference in the lives of SSI/SSP recipients, who struggle to pay for housing, food, and other essentials. However, this vision can be realized only if state policymakers elevate SSI/SSP to the top tier of state budget priorities — and sustain that commitment over time.

State budget cuts hollowed out the SSI/SSP Program, undermining a key foundation for economic security in California. AB 1584 provides an opportunity for lawmakers and Governor Brown to rebuild this critical source of support for low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

— Scott Graves