A Disability Program Promised to Lift People From Poverty. Instead, It Left Many Homeless.


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After two months of sleeping within the Salvation Military Heart of Hope homeless shelter, Margaret Davis has had no luck discovering an condo she will be able to afford.

The 55-year-old grandmother receives about $750 a month from the federal authorities. She’s attempting to stay on simply $50 money and $150 in meals stamps every month so she will be able to save sufficient for a spot to name dwelling.

Davis is homeless although she receives funds from the Supplemental Safety Earnings program, a hard-to-get federal profit that was created almost 50 years in the past to carry out of poverty Individuals who’re older, blind, or disabled.

Davis’ job choices are restricted as a result of she will get dialysis remedy thrice per week for kidney failure. As she ready to spend one other evening within the crowded shelter, she checked her cellphone to see whether or not a physician wished her to have her left leg amputated.

“My therapist is attempting to assist me keep constructive however generally I simply wish to finish this life and begin over,” Davis stated.

Margaret Davis has been a resident of the Salvation Military Heart of Hope shelter since June 2022. Davis is homeless although she receives funds from the Supplemental Safety Earnings program, a federal profit that was created almost 50 years in the past.(Logan Cyrus for KHN)

Falling into homelessness is just not a brand new difficulty for individuals who obtain supplemental revenue from the Social Safety Administration. However shifting recipients out of shelters, crime-ridden motels, and tent encampments and into steady housing has been getting more durable, based on nonprofit attorneys, advocates for folks with disabilities, and educational researchers.

Quickly rising rents and inflation deserve a share of the blame.

However SSI recipients, activists, and others stated the difficulty underscores for them how this system itself locks hundreds of thousands of individuals into housing instability and deep poverty whilst President Joe Biden guarantees to repair it.

“We’re trapping folks in a spot the place dignity is out of attain,” stated Rebecca Vallas, a senior fellow on the Century Basis, a progressive suppose tank that conducts analysis on financial fairness. “This system began with good intentions,” she stated. “It’s exhausting for me to see this as something however willful neglect.”

In a rustic the place roughly 1 in 4 residents stay with some sort of incapacity, supplemental revenue is supposed to make sure that probably the most weak can get housing and different fundamental wants. Most SSI recipients routinely qualify for Medicaid, a joint federal and state program that covers medical prices for folks with low incomes.

Along with people who find themselves blind or who’re 65 or older, those that show they’ve a medical situation that forestalls them from working for a minimum of one yr are eligible for a month-to-month fee from SSI, which maxes out at $841. However there’s a catch that makes seeing a greater monetary future tough for folks like Davis. The financial profit decreases if the individual earns greater than $85 a month in extra revenue. And each the revenue and Medicaid advantages are revoked if the individual saves greater than $2,000, which critics say discourages folks from saving.

The quantity that recipients obtain has not stored tempo with rising hire costs, advocacy teams say.

The sum of money Davis stated she will get every month from this system is about $60 greater than the utmost quantity supplied 10 years in the past, when she first began receiving the profit. But the typical condo in Charlotte, the place Davis lives, now rents for $1,500 a month, about 70% greater than it did almost a decade in the past, based on Zumper, which has been monitoring rental costs since 2014.

There’s no probability she will be able to afford her dream: an condo or home in a protected neighborhood the place she will be able to spend afternoons crocheting. “I don’t like to speak like this, however I’m not certain what’s going to occur to me,” Davis stated.

When Congress created SSI in 1972, the laws promised that recipients “would now not must subsist on below-poverty-level incomes.”

Immediately, almost 8 million folks depend on the federal program for revenue.

Over the previous 5 many years, Congress below each Republican and Democratic management has declined to make main modifications to this system. The $85 outdoors revenue restrict, as an example, has by no means been adjusted to account for inflation.

The Social Safety Administration, which oversees this system, didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark about how the charges are set.

Biden dedicated to reforming SSI throughout his 2020 presidential marketing campaign, saying that he would “protect and strengthen economic security for people with disabilities.”

However for seven months, Delisa Williams has been caught in the identical homeless shelter as Davis. Diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis have left her physique weakened, and the stress of residing within the Salvation Military Heart of Hope is taking a toll on her psychological well being.

Williams’ solely actual probability to get out had been the mixed $881 she obtained every month from SSI and the Social Safety Incapacity Insurance coverage program, which has related limits and necessities. She rapidly realized that might not be sufficient to afford the hire for many locations.

“God will see me by way of,” she stated. “He didn’t convey me this far for nothing.”

A photo shows Delisa Williams sitting beside a window. She is posing for a portrait and looking at the camera.
The stress of residing on the shelter has taken a toll on Delisa Williams’ psychological well being. “God will see me by way of,” she says. “He didn’t convey me this far for nothing.”(Logan Cyrus for KHN)

Amongst developed nations, the US is among the hardest locations for folks to fulfill the factors for incapacity funds, based on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a world intergovernmental group the U.S. helped create to advance social well-being.

If an individual applies for incapacity revenue, they will wait months and even years to get advantages. Hundreds go broke or die whereas ready for assist. A data analysis by the U.S. Authorities Accountability Workplace discovered that from 2014 to 2019, about 48,000 folks filed for chapter whereas attempting to get a last determination on a incapacity enchantment. The identical report stated that from 2008 to 2019 greater than 100,000 folks died ready.

The scenario was made worse through the covid-19 pandemic as a result of the Social Safety Administration closed greater than 1,200 subject places of work throughout the nation and stored them shuttered for roughly two years.

That call left tons of of 1000’s of needy folks unable to hunt advantages, since cellphone strains had been jammed with calls and the company supplies no option to submit functions on-line, stated David Weaver, a former affiliate commissioner for analysis, demonstration, and employment help on the Social Safety Administration.

“The variety of SSI awards simply collapsed,” Weaver stated.

Homeless shelters and different nonprofits usually assist shoppers apply for the supplemental revenue in hopes that the cash will assist get them a spot to stay. Rachael Mason, a social employee on the Triune Mercy Heart in Greenville, South Carolina, has realized to mood folks’s expectations.

“Any time somebody exhibits up and says I wish to pursue housing, my coronary heart drops a bit of bit,” Mason stated. “I’ve to be trustworthy and inform them it might be a yr to a few years. Even when somebody needs to simply hire a room in a home, it might take up their complete verify.”

Because the fiftieth anniversary of SSI approaches this fall, Congress is deciding whether or not to make modifications to this system.

In an April 2021 letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, greater than 40 lawmakers lobbied them to boost money advantages above the poverty degree, enhance the sum of money recipients can save, and get rid of reductions for taking assist from family members, amongst different modifications. “Individuals with disabilities and older adults receiving SSI signify among the most marginalized members of our society,” the letter stated. “Historical past is not going to forgive us if we fail to deal with their wants within the restoration effort.”

A bunch of Republican and Democratic legislators have now proposed the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act, which might elevate the asset restrict for recipients from $2,000 to $10,000 for people and from $3,000 to $20,000 for {couples}.

Davis, the lady whose leg could be amputated, is attempting to stay hopeful. She began seeing a therapist to deal with melancholy. She stopped smoking to economize for an condo.

Requested when she would possibly be capable to transfer out of the shelter, she stated, “I don’t know.”

A photo shows Delisa Williams and Margaret Davis sitting on a couch in front of window, conversing.
Delisa Williams (left) and Margaret Davis (proper) go to with one another on the Salvation Military Heart of Hope shelter in Charlotte, North Carolina.(Logan Cyrus for KHN)

This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Well being Information), a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Along with Coverage Evaluation and Polling, KHN is among the three main working packages at KFF (Kaiser Household Basis). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering info on well being points to the nation.


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