Legislation aims to help seniors achieve financial independence

Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) co-sponsored legislation on Tuesday meant to help beneficiaries of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program become financially independent and transition off federal assistance.

Petri and Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) introduced the bipartisan SSI Savers Act. Under current law, low-income seniors must deplete much of their savings to qualify for SSI support for necessities like food, clothing and shelter. Individuals are required to draw their down their assets to $2,000 and married couples must draw down their assets to $3,000, to receive the support.

“Too often government policy gets in the way of personal initiative,” Petri said. “Currently, under SSI disabled Americans face a difficult choice between saving for future expenses and losing benefits. The SSI Savers Act would ease these restrictions, remove many of the disincentives that currently keep disabled citizens dependent on government benefits, and allow them to build their own savings.”

The SSI Savers Act would increase asset limits to $5,500 for individuals and $8,250 for married couples. Those limits would also be adjusted to reflect inflation.

“The SSI Savers Act fixes a flawed system that strips seniors and the disabled of savings they need to attain financial independence and forces them into permanent dependence on the government,” Tsongas said. “Current law has not been updated since 1989, even though inflation has reduced the value of the dollar by almost half since then. Our legislation would sensibly update the savings and assets, which seniors and disabled individuals can retain when they need the help of the SSI safety net. By encouraging greater savings among recipients and saving taxpayers money in the long term, this bill is a win-win.”

The bill would also exclude retirement accounts and education savings accounts from the asset limit for program recipients who are younger than 65.