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 Middle of Hope homeless shelter, Margaret Davis has had no luck discovering an condo she will afford.

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

Davis is homeless regardless that 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 raise out of poverty Individuals who’re older, blind, or disabled.

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

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

Margaret Davis has been a resident of the Salvation Military Middle of Hope shelter since June 2022. Davis is homeless regardless that 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 transferring recipients out of shelters, crime-ridden motels, and tent encampments and into secure housing has been getting tougher, in line with nonprofit attorneys, advocates for individuals with disabilities, and educational researchers.

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

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

“We’re trapping individuals in a spot the place dignity is out of attain,” mentioned 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 mentioned. “It’s arduous for me to see this as something however willful neglect.”

In a rustic the place roughly 1 in 4 residents stay with some kind of incapacity, supplemental revenue is supposed to make sure that probably the most susceptible can get housing and different primary wants. Most SSI recipients mechanically qualify for Medicaid, a joint federal and state program that covers medical prices for individuals 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 stops them from working for at the very least one 12 months are eligible for a month-to-month cost from SSI, which maxes out at $841. However there’s a catch that makes seeing a greater monetary future tough for individuals 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 individuals from saving.

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

The amount of cash Davis mentioned 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 common 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, in line with Zumper, which has been monitoring rental costs since 2014.

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

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

Right this moment, almost 8 million individuals depend on the federal program for revenue.

Over the previous 5 a long time, Congress below each Republican and Democratic management has declined to make main modifications to this system. The $85 exterior revenue restrict, for 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 “shield and strengthen financial safety for individuals 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 dwelling within the Salvation Military Middle of Hope is taking a toll on her psychological well being.

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

“God will see me via,” she mentioned. “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 dwelling on the shelter has taken a toll on Delisa Williams’ psychological well being. “God will see me via,” she says. “He didn’t convey me this far for nothing.”(Logan Cyrus for KHN)

Amongst developed nations, america is without doubt one of the hardest locations for individuals to satisfy the factors for incapacity funds, in line with the Group for Financial Cooperation and Growth, a worldwide intergovernmental group the U.S. helped create to advance social well-being.

If an individual applies for incapacity revenue, they’ll wait months and even years to get advantages. Hundreds go broke or die whereas ready for assist. A knowledge evaluation by the U.S. Authorities Accountability Workplace discovered that from 2014 to 2019, about 48,000 individuals filed for chapter whereas making an attempt to get a ultimate resolution on a incapacity enchantment. The identical report mentioned that from 2008 to 2019 greater than 100,000 individuals died ready.

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

That call left lots of of 1000’s of needy individuals unable to hunt advantages, since cellphone strains had been jammed with calls and the company gives no option to submit purposes on-line, mentioned 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 mentioned.

Homeless shelters and different nonprofits usually assist purchasers 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 Middle in Greenville, South Carolina, has discovered to mood individuals’s expectations.

“Any time somebody exhibits up and says I wish to pursue housing, my coronary heart drops somewhat bit,” Mason mentioned. “I’ve to be sincere and inform them it may very well be a 12 months to a few years. Even when somebody desires to only lease a room in a home, it may take up their whole test.”

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 lift money advantages above the poverty degree, improve the amount of cash recipients can save, and remove reductions for taking assist from family members, amongst different modifications. “Folks with disabilities and older adults receiving SSI symbolize a number of the most marginalized members of our society,” the letter mentioned. “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 Financial savings Penalty Elimination Act, which might increase the asset restrict for recipients from $2,000 to $10,000 for people and from $3,000 to $20,000 for {couples}.

Davis, the girl whose leg may be amputated, is making an attempt to stay hopeful. She began seeing a therapist to deal with despair. She stopped smoking to save cash for an condo.

Requested when she may be capable to transfer out of the shelter, she mentioned, “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 Middle 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 without doubt one of the three main working applications at KFF (Kaiser Household Basis). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering info on well being points to the nation.

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