This year may be Democrats
' last chance for a long time
to pass major legislation that will alleviate hardship for many families
, and they must make difficult decisions about which policies to exclude.
One speculative proposal is an update to the federal government's main cash assistance program for the poorest of the poor, which has long been neglected by Washington
The Supplemental Security Income
(SSI) program provides cash assistance to nearly 8 million people
who are blind or disabled and have not earned much money
from working; however, benefits are meager, with a monthly cap of $794, and recipients can be kicked off if they accumulate more than $2,000 in a bank account, a rule that hasn't been updated since 1989.
Brown is the lead sponsor of a bill that would increase benefits, raise the asset limit, and make other changes to lift more SSI recipients above the poverty
line. He predicted that it would "probably not" make it into the budget reconciliation
bill Democrats plan to push through Congress
later this year, but vowed to try.
“SSI has been forgotten by Washington for years,” Brown told Stardia, adding, “I am pushing my colleagues to ensure that does not happen again this time.”
Democrats have said they will definitely include certain policies in the legislation, such as the continuation of the monthly child tax credit
benefits that began last week, and they have talked a big game about expanding access to paid family
leave, affordable child care
, and universal pre-K, but the actual scope of those proposals remains unclear, and the bill exists only as a broad outline at this point.
“We haven’t even begun to negotiate the details,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).
The White House
left out SSI changes in its April
summary of the package that Democrats intend to pass after Congress passes a bipartisan infrastructure
bill, and a Democratic
aide on Capitol Hill
circulated an outline of the pending legislation earlier this month that also left out SSI.
“That is something that we are looking into,” Senate
Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders
(I-VT) told Stardia this week.
Brown's proposal would cost more than $500 billion over a decade, which is a substantial sum even in the context of a $3.5 trillion budget resolution. As Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) put it, "we have a lot of top priorities."
However, the budget may be Democrats' last chance to enact major policy changes for years, as they have small majorities in both the House and Senate and may lose control of either chamber in 2022. The reconciliation process, which allows Democrats to bypass Republicans
and pass legislation through the Senate with just 50 votes
, is typically available only once per fiscal year.
It's safe to say that Washington has forgotten about SSI. The program's $2,000 asset limit is so low that when last year's stimulus
payments arrived in bank accounts, some recipients saw their monthly benefits reduced because they'd become too wealthy. The penalties were the result of administrative errors, because the payments weren't supposed to count against eligibility for federal programs, but that's what happened.
Brown stated, "Right now is our best chance to right the wrongs of decades of neglect."