A bill that would increase state cash assistance by more than $200 per month for low-income seniors and people with disabilities will be heard tomorrow by the Assembly Human Services Committee. Assembly Bill 474 (Brown and Thurmond) aims to reverse recent state reductions by boosting Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) grants for individuals (but not for couples) in the 2015-16 state fiscal year, which begins this coming July 1. State policymakers made deep cuts to SSI/SSP grants in order to help close budget shortfalls during and following the Great Recession.
Here’s how AB 474 would work:
- Currently, the maximum SSI/SSP grant for an individual is $889 per month, of which $733 is the federal SSI portion and $156 is the state SSP portion. (The state’s SSP grant is at the minimum level allowed by federal law.) The combined SSI/SSP grant equals roughly 90 percent of the federal poverty line for an individual in 2015 — down from 100.5 percent of the poverty line in early 2009 due to state cuts.
- AB 474 would boost the total SSI/SSP grant for an individual to 112 percent of the poverty line, which is currently $1,099 per month. In other words, the combined SSI/SSP grant would rise from the current $889 per month to $1,099 per month in 2015-16.
- This $210-per-month increase would be funded with state dollars applied entirely to the SSP portion of the grant, raising it from $156 per month to $366 per month.
- In future years, the state would increase SSP grants so that — when combined with the SSI portion — the total grant continues to equal 112 percent of the poverty line. (The federal government typically adjusts both the poverty line and the SSI portion of SSI/SSP grants for inflation each year.)
An increase of this magnitude would surely make an appreciable difference in the lives of the 1.1 million Californians who receive individual SSI/SSP grants. The recent state cuts to the SSP portion of the grant remain in effect, compromising SSI/SSP recipients’ ability afford basic necessities, such as housing and food. (Seniors and people with disabilities who receive SSI/SSP grants don’t qualify for federal food assistance, known as CalFresh in California.)
Increasing the SSP portion of the grant for individuals by more than $200 per month would clearly have implications for the state budget. These costs will be quantified if AB 474 advances to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Notably, AB 474 would have no costs with respect to SSI/SSP grants for couples, because — as noted above — the bill provides no increase for these grants in 2015-16 or in subsequent fiscal years. (The maximum SSI/SSP grant for couples is currently $1,496 per month, which equals 112.7 percent of the poverty line; this is down from 130 percent of the poverty line in early 2009 due to state cuts. Roughly 230,000 Californians receive SSI/SSP grants for couples.)
SSI/SSP recipients and their advocates have become increasingly concerned that the recession-era reductions to SSI/SSP cash assistance will become a permanent feature of California’s policy landscape. AB 474 provides an opportunity for lawmakers and Governor Brown to assess the impact of these state cuts and begin to rebuild a critical source of income support for California’s low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
— Scott Graves