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Supplemental Security Income: 40 years later

Oct. 30 marked the 40th year of the Supplemental Security Income program, which currently provides benefits for about 8 million Americans who are blind, disabled or elderly. If it wasn't for SSI, many of the most vulnerable people in the country would be facing property, homelessness and other struggles.

The SSI program was created in 1972 under President Richard Nixon. The purpose of the program was to replace a complex network of existing federal-state programs that provided aid to the elderly, blind and disabled. SSI was meant to streamline the application process and make it easier for people who needed benefits to obtain them.

According to a federal study conducted on the SSI program, "the quality of life of the aged and disabled who are poor has improved greatly since they were transferred to SSI from former state programs."

Part of the reason for this is that American attitudes have changed regarding how the elderly and disabled should be taken care of. In 1962, a study revealed that 71 Americans believed that people with develop­ment disabilities should be institutionalized instead of cared for at home.

Today, SSI provides the disabled with the benefits they need to live on their own and with in-home assistance. As a 54-year-old Pennsylvania man with severe bipolar disorder explained, "SSI has given me the opportunity to have dignity, pride, and respect. SSI is a blessing."

In order to qualify for SSI, a person must be 65 or older or suffer from blindness or a severe disability. Additionally, beneficiaries must have extremely low income and assets. Unlike Social Security Disability, beneficiaries need not have contributed to Social Security by working to qualify.

Source: Huffington Post, "Happy Birthday, SSI: A Safety Net for Vulnerable Americans," Donna Meltzer, Oct. 30, 2012

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