SSI/SSP and the Governor’s Proposed 2015-16 Budget: Recession-Era Cuts Remain in Place

January 29, 2015

During the dark days of California’s recent budget crisis, state policymakers had to make very tough choices about which critical public services to cut, and by how much. At the time, there was a general expectation around the state Capitol — and throughout California — that as the economy improved and revenues came back, policymakers would undo some or all of the reductions that they imposed during and following the Great Recession.

While lawmakers and the Governor have begun to reinvest in important services and systems over the past couple of years, some key programs remain on the chopping block despite a growing state economy and higher revenues. This list includes one of California’s most important public supports for seniors and people with disabilities: SSI/SSP (the Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment program). SSI/SSP uses both federal (SSI) and state (SSP) dollars to provide modest monthly grants that are intended to help 1.3 million low-income Californians keep a roof over their heads and purchase food and other basic necessities.

We described the state’s recession-era cuts to SSI/SSP cash assistance in a previous blog post. The bottom line is that state policymakers cut California’s portion of the grant from $568 to $396 for couples and from $233 to $156 for individuals. As a result, the maximum grant for individuals — currently $889 per month, including the federal SSI grant — amounts to just 90 percent of the federal poverty line. (In 2015, the poverty line for an individual is $11,770, or roughly $980 per month.) These state cuts undoubtedly increased hardship for vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities. Yet, they remain in place today, and the Governor proposes to maintain the state’s SSP grants at their current levels in 2015-16, the fiscal year that begins this coming July 1.

While the significant human cost of the state’s cuts to SSI/SSP grants is impossible to quantify, we can assess the impact on the state budget. These cuts substantially lowered state support for SSI/SSP, as shown in the following chart.


In 2007-08, the year the Great Recession began in California, the state spent about $3.9 billion for its share of SSI/SSP cash assistance, after adjusting for inflation. The Governor proposes to spend $2.5 billion on SSI/SSP grants in 2015-16, more than one-third below the 2007-08 level. In other words, after taking into account the cost of living, the state is providing $1.4 billion less for SSI/SSP grants than it spent on the eve of the Great Recession — and this despite the fact that the number of Californians enrolled in SSI/SSP has risen by more than 5 percent since 2007-08.

So, when the Governor forecasts balanced state budgets for the next few years, it’s important to keep in mind that this promising fiscal scenario rests on a troubling assumption: that state policymakers will leave in place the recession-era cuts to SSI/SSP grants, perhaps permanently. Put another way, the Governor’s proposed budget is built on well over $1 billion in annual state “savings” that come from reducing a critical source of basic income for more than 1 million of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

As this year’s state budget debate heats up, state lawmakers — and all Californians — should ask themselves if this is the kind of “fiscal prudence” they bargained for.

— Scott Graves

Five Years Later, State Cuts to Assistance for Low-Income Seniors and People With Disabilities Remain in Place

November 3, 2014

One of California’s most important public supports for seniors and people with disabilities who struggle to make ends meet marks a dubious 5th anniversary this month. In November 2009, state policymakers put into effect the third in a rapid series of cuts to Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) grants, which are funded with both federal (SSI) and state (SSP) dollars. These state cuts reduced the monthly SSP grant for couples from $568 in January 2009 to $396 by November of that same year. The monthly SSP grant for individuals fell from $233 at the outset of 2009 to $171 by November. Less than two years later — in July 2011 — state policymakers put in place an additional $15-per-month cut, dropping the SSP grant for individuals to $156 per month. (For an overview of these state cuts and their impact, see this recent CBP presentation.)

The SSP cuts in 2009 came as the Great Recession gripped California and state lawmakers looked for ways to reduce spending in the face of a two-year, $60 billion budget shortfall. Today, although the state’s economy and finances have been slowly recovering from the downturn, low-income Californians who rely on SSI/SSP cash assistance have been left behind. While the SSI portion of the grant has modestly increased in recent years due to federal cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), the state’s SSP portion remains frozen at recession-era levels: $396 for couples and $156 for individuals, the minimum levels allowed by federal law. Why haven’t SSP grants gone up? Because — in addition to reducing SSP grants in 2009 — state policymakers eliminated the annual state COLA. As a result, the state’s portion has not been increased to reflect changes in California’s cost of living over the past several years.

Without a doubt, these budget cuts substantially lowered the state’s costs for SSI/SSP. In 2007-08, the year the Great Recession struck, the state spent about $3.8 billion on its share of SSI/SSP cash assistance (in 2014-15 dollars). Fast forward seven years: California will spend a projected $2.5 billion on SSI/SSP grants in the current fiscal year — more than one-third below the 2007-08 level. This substantial drop in state spending has occurred even as the number of Californians enrolled in SSI/SSP has increased, rising by 6 percent — to 1.3 million — since 2007-08.

But these state “savings” have come at a tremendous cost to low-income seniors and people with disabilities. SSI/SSP cash assistance once uniformly lifted recipients out of poverty, but no more: Today’s maximum grant for individuals equals just 90 percent of the federal poverty line, jeopardizing the ability of seniors and people with disabilities who rely on these grants to afford basic necessities such as food and housing. The value of SSI/SSP grants has fallen so sharply in recent years that the state’s SSP portion would have to increase by nearly $100 per month in order to bring the total grant for individuals up to the 2014 poverty line.


Five years ago, in the midst of a severe budget crisis, the state made a series of deep cuts to SSI/SSP grants. The question now — for state policymakers as well as the general public — is whether these reductions, which target some of California’s most vulnerable residents, should be temporary or permanent.

— Scott Graves

SSI/SSP in the Governor’s Proposed 2014-15 Budget: Assistance for Seniors and People With Disabilities Is Left Below the Poverty Line

March 5, 2014

The Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) Program provides modest cash grants — funded with both federal and state dollars — that help 1.3 million low-income seniors and people with disabilities in California to pay for food, housing, and other basic necessities.

A new CBP analysis — the latest in a series of briefs on key components of Governor Brown’s proposed 2014-15 budget — looks at the SSI/SSP Program. This brief shows that despite an improved revenue outlook, the Governor’s proposal does not boost state support for SSI/SSP grants. As a result of recent years’ cuts to the state portion of SSI/SSP grants, the current grant for an individual — $877 as of January 1 — is 10 percentage points below the federal poverty line.

The brief also examines how the cuts to SSI/SSP grants have made it more difficult for low-income seniors and people with disabilities to afford basic living expenses and discusses options that state policymakers have for increasing support for SSI/SSP recipients.

SSI/SSP will be one of the major items taken up today by Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services. The subcommittee will meet at 1:30 p.m. in Capitol Room 4202.

— Steven Bliss

Countdown to May Revise: The $8 Billion Impact of Recent Cuts to CalWORKs and SSI/SSP

May 11, 2011

In response to sizeable budget shortfalls, lawmakers have repeatedly cut state spending in recent years. For confirmation, Californians need look no further than CalWORKs and SSI/SSP, the state’s primary safety-net programs for low-income kids, seniors, and people with disabilities. New CBP county fact sheets show that the cumulative impact of cuts made to CalWORKs and SSI/SSP amounts to more than $8 billion between 2008-09 and 2011-12. The reduction to CalWORKs during this period – $3.5 billion – is equivalent to a loss of roughly $3,100 for each of the 1.1 million children in the program, while the cut to SSI/SSP – $4.6 billion – equates to a loss of about $3,600 for each of the nearly 1.3 million seniors and people with disabilities who receive cash assistance.

As our fact sheets explain, state lawmakers have not only suspended cost-of-living adjustments for cash assistance – a well-worn budget “solution” that keeps grants from increasing to keep pace with inflation – but have ventured into new territory by making deep grant cuts and reversing longstanding policies, including those designed to protect children and help parents successfully move into the workforce. For example, the Legislature cut the maximum monthly CalWORKs grant for a family of three in high-cost counties from $723 in 2007-08 to $638 in 2011-12, an $85-per-month reduction. The Legislature also cut CalWORKs grants by up to an additional 15 percent for many families who receive “child-only” cash assistance, including families in which a parent has “timed off” aid, but the children continue to receive subsistence payments. The loss of funds due to these and other CalWORKs cuts will disproportionately affect California’s high-cost – mainly coastal – counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, and San Francisco, because that’s where more than half (55.4 percent) of CalWORKs families live.

Combined, recent cuts have left CalWORKs and SSI/SSP ill-equipped to cope with the ongoing impact of the Great Recession and the challenges of a growing and aging population. California is at a crossroads; a balanced approach that couples recently enacted spending cuts with additional revenues is the only way to preserve the public structures essential to California’s prosperity.

— Scott Graves and Vicky Lovell

On the Docket: The Toll Cuts Have Taken

March 23, 2010

Mark your calendars; here’s one not to be missed. Tomorrow at 1:30 in room 4202 at the State Capitol, Assembly Budget Subcommittee #1 will have a hearing titled, “Toll on Californians of Adopted and Proposed Health and Human Services Cuts.” The hearing will examine the impact of last year’s health and human services cuts on Californians, as well as the toll of the Governor’s proposed 2010-11 budget cuts.

There will be no public testimony, although the committee will take written comments. The Governor’s administration, its department directors and staff, as well as the Legislative Analyst’s Office, are expected to testify.

If you’re not in Sacramento, you can follow audio of the hearing from the Assembly website. It might also be televised on The California Channel.

You can, of course, find a multitude of CBP work on these issues. Our recent fact sheets document the impact of the Governor’s proposed cuts to CalWORKs by county and legislative district; to SSI/SSP by county and legislative district; and to the Healthy Families Program by county and legislative district.

Last year, the CBP also examined the impact of cuts to the safety net.

— Lisa Gardiner

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