Another round of state budget cuts means that life is about to get tougher for low-income California seniors and people with disabilities. One of the budget-related bills signed by Governor Brown last week further reduced cash assistance provided through the Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) Program. The Legislature cut SSI/SSP grants for individuals by $15 per month effective July 1, 2011, reducing the maximum grant from $845 to $830, the lowest level allowed by federal law. The current cut comes on top of the $62-per-month reduction made in 2009, for a total loss of $77 per month (8.5 percent). Starting in July, SSI/SSP grants will provide individuals with an annual income of just $9,960 – $930 below the federal poverty line of $10,890. Couples were spared any cuts this year only because the Legislature already reduced their grants to the federal minimum in 2009.
SSI/SSP grants have lost substantial purchasing power since 1990, and the current cut will further compromise the ability of 1.3 million low-income California seniors and people with disabilities to afford necessities, such as housing and groceries. For example, the federal government estimates that an elderly woman living alone has to spend about $180 per month on food in order to maintain a minimally adequate diet. By this standard, the $77-per-month cut represents nearly two weeks of groceries. SSI/SSP recipients are not eligible for food assistance through the CalFresh Program, formerly known as food stamps. Therefore, recipients face difficult choices about how to manage their reduced income, such as eating less and/or relying on food banks or other charities.
If there’s a saving grace, it’s that the state can’t cut SSI/SSP grants any further without triggering a severe federal penalty – the loss of all federal funding for the Medi-Cal Program. However, that may be small consolation for more than 1 million of California’s most vulnerable residents who are trying to eke out an existence well below the poverty line.
— Scott Graves