Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

State Optional Supplementation of SSI Payments, 1974-95

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

State Optional Supplementation of SSI Payments, 1974-95

Article excerpt

by Elsa Orley Ponce *

States are permitted to provide supplements to the Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. These supplements are intended to help meet the needs of their residents that are not met by the Federal SSI payment. The States determine the categories of persons and the amount they will supplement. The types of SSI recipients States have chosen to supplement, as well as the changes in their choices and in their supplementation levels over the years, are examined in this article. Since 1982, the number of SSI recipients receiving State supplements has increased each year. This increase in the number of recipients has resulted in increased expenditures for States. To control rising costs, States have begun using a variety of methods. Since 1993, nearly one-third of the States have reduced their payment levels to persons living independently. In addition, some States have begun reducing their supplementation rolls. Other States have begun to administer their own programs, possibly to bypass the recently imposed Federal administration fees.

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program, implemented in 1974, replaced the previous State administered, Federal-State grant-in-aid programs of Old-Age Assistance, Aid to the Blind, and Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled. Persons in these former programs were, for the most part, automatically transferred to the SSI program. Since the SSI program had uniform eligibility standards and a national base payment level, every aged, blind, and disabled person who qualified for this program, had no countable income or resources, and was living independently received the same Federal payment. In January 1974, the Federal benefit rate (FBR) for such a person was $140. The FBR has been raised by costof-living adjustments through the years, and is $470 in 1996. States were required to supplement the Federal payment for those persons who would otherwise have been adversely affected by the transition from the previous State programs. They were also permitted to augment the basic Federal benefit for other categories of recipients.

This article looks at the types of situations where States have chosen to provide supplementation, changes in those choices over the last 20 years, and changes in supplementation levels over the years.


In addition to the Federal SSI payment, two types of State supplementation were authorized: mandatory and optional. This article focuses on optional supplementation. Relatively few persons are currently covered under mandatory supplementation: fewer than 5,000 persons receive mandatory supplementation compared with 3 million persons who receive optional supplementation.1

The optional supplement is intended to help meet the needs of State residents that are not met by the basic Federal SSI payment. Public Laws (P.L.) 92603 and 93-66 authorized States to supplement basic Federal SSI payments. The State determines the categories of persons and the amount it will supplement. Currently, 442 States provide some type of optional supplementation. Thirtyseven of these States began their optional supplementation programs in 1974.

States could select either Federal or State administration of their supplementary payments. If Federal administration was selected, a number of conditions had to be met. States were limited in the number of payment variations and had to adopt the same program and administrative rules that apply to Federal SSI payments. Originally, up to five payment variations were allowed on the basis of living arrangements. Some examples of these arrangements are: living alone, living with an ineligible spouse, living in a personal care or a congregate care facility, or other arrangements devised by the State. In each of these arrangements, up to three variations are allowed for geographical area and two are allowed for status (that is, individual or couple). The number of variations allowed for eligibility category are based on the assistance titles of the Social Security Act that the State's programs operated under in January 1972, that is, titles I, X, XIV, or XVI. …

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