Advocates Seek Increase to Supplemental Security Income to Benefit People with Disabilities

Aug 4, 2020

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People receiving the maximum SSI live on $783 a month. The Chicago Disability Activism Collective is proposing an additional $266 per month.

Posted on August 4th, 2020 | By

 

With the coronavirus heightening challenges already faced by people with disabilities, activists are calling for an increase monthly Supplemental Security Income.

The SSI Justice Campaign is proposing the state add $266 to people’s monthly SSI, a federal income program designed to help aged and disabled people who have minimal or no income. The current federal monthly maximum is $783.

The Chicago Disability Activism Collective launched the campaign with full support of Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya, who represents the 7th District on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Many people with disabilities can’t work and rely solely on SSI to cover rent, food and other basic needs, Anaya said. Coupled with a cost of living in Cook County that’s higher than the national average, Anaya said an increase to Illinois’ SSI is “far overdue.” The increase would also benefit undocumented people with disabilities, Anaya said.

The additional $266 would be funded through a state-level inheritance tax increase, according to the draft resolution. Anaya said the resolution will be introduced in the Illinois General Assembly.

People who rely on SSI have faced challenges long before the coronavirus pandemic, said Monia Taylor, a member of CDAC. When bills roll in and demand payment, Taylor said she can’t wait for another monthly SSI installment to come through.

“The poverty Black people and disabled people face on a daily basis didn’t start with COVID,” Taylor said. “The virus just exacerbated the problem, having to choose between rent and buying food because you don’t have enough money for both.”

Adam Ballard, a housing and transport policy advocate advising the campaign, said high rent forces many people with disabilities to live in congregate settings if they don’t have a housing voucher. Even people who have housing vouchers have to contribute 30% of their SSI to rent, Ballard said, already leaving people “in a pinch.”

Transportation costs can also quickly stack up, even with subsidized taxi rides through the Chicago Taxi Access Program and other services, Ballard said.

The number of Chicago taxi medallions surrendered this year increased from 552 as of March 11 when the pandemic hit the city to 2,501 on June 11, according to data obtained by the Sun-Times through a FOIA request. The decrease leaves 636 licensed taxis in the city.

“We have a system that forces people to make decisions that limit their travel as well,” Ballard said. “Their outcomes limit their freedom.”

People in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for example, can’t use the benefits to have groceries delivered. Instead, they must make a trip to the store.

Angela Lacy, president of CDAC, said she’s been living in a “pandemic situation” for a long time, kept from social events and being unable to afford services and goods because of the economic strain of relying on SSI.

“We’re surviving, but we’re not living,” Lacy said. “The lack of income from SSI has caused me to live this way.”

 

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