Principles: Public Benefits

Adopted 3/7/2015, Revised 9/17/2016, Revised September 2019

Principles: Public Benefits

Disability Rights California (DRC) is committed to ensuring that public benefit programs meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. Public benefit programs should be broadly-available and designed to provide people adequate financial and service supports to live safely in the community and lead productive lives. Public benefits should be client-centered, client-directed to the extent possible, voluntary, and designed to provide requested services.

Current state and federal program benefit amounts do not provide an adequate safety net and this makes it increasingly difficult for people to gain and maintain independence and lead productive lives in the community.

DRC will oppose any legislative or policy changes that eliminate or reduce public benefits or the right to services.

Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment Benefits

People should receive full cost of living increases in Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) benefits. The amount of monthly SSI/SSP payments should be updated to reflect the current cost of living. In addition, the program should be updated to: 1) increase the SSI/SSP resource limit for individuals and couples;1 2) update the general income exclusion2 and the earned income exclusion;3 3) repeal the in-kind support and maintenance provision;4 and 4) repeal the transfer of assets penalty (three years of ineligibility for transfer of assets). In addition, reductions in SSI/SSP and Social Security benefits to collect debts for child support or federal loans should be limited or eliminated.

Representative payees5 for Social Security beneficiaries must respect the beneficiaries’ right to direct and control disbursements consistent with the beneficiaries’ capacity to make decisions for themselves and consistent with the representative payees’ fiduciary obligations. Federal policies and laws should provide oversight of and accountability by representative payees of SSI recipient funds consistent with their fiduciary duties.

In 2018 Congress created the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act and designated the protection and advocacy system for conducting representative payee program reviews to ensure that funds belonging to beneficiaries under payee ships are being managed consistent with the rules and regulations governing representative payee responsibilities. 

Availability of Public Benefits

Public benefits should be available to all individuals with disabilities who need them.

Counties and other responsible entities must ensure individuals in out-of-county placements receive the same public benefits and services they would receive had they been placed in-county. Counties and other responsible entities should provide out-of-county services or arrange for their provision by the county of placement, by out-of-county providers, or by other appropriate entities.

Applying for and Receiving Information about Benefits

Programs that provide case management should help people apply for and qualify for all benefit programs for which they may be eligible. There should be appropriate coordination and exchange of information between agencies to avoid delays in receiving needed benefits.

Local education agencies and charter schools that provide special education and related services should include benefits planning as a key component of the Individual Education Program and school transition process for transition-aged students.6

Agencies should notify recipients and applicants of all due process rights at the time of application, when there is a proposed reduction to or denial of a program or service and when requested

Information about public benefits programs and services should be clear in the individuals’ preferred language and provided in accessible formats. 



1 The current resource limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 per couple. These amounts have not been adjusted since 1989. This limit is greater by one-fourth than the original SSI resource limit of $1,500 for an individual and $2,250 for a couple, which was enacted in 1972. – (Return to main document)

2 Some items considered income are excluded when determining the amount of an individual's benefit. The general income exclusion allows an SSI/SSP recipient to keep up to $20 per month of income received from any source. This exclusion was established so recipients who receive a monthly Social Security benefit that is less than the uniform payment rate would benefit from receiving both Social Security and SSI/SSP, as compared to SSI/SSP recipients with no other income. This amount has not been adjusted since 1972. – (Return to main document)

3 The earned income exclusion was intended to encourage those who could to return to the work force by allowing them to keep $65 per month plus one-half of their earnings. The $65 was designed to cover work expenses, other than disability-related expenses, such as transportation, work clothes, and taxes. It has not been adjusted since 1972. – (Return to main document)

4 Under current law, there can be a reduction in monthly benefit of an amount equal to one-third the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) if an SSI/SSP recipient receives in-kind food or shelter. This makes it difficult to receive in-kind support from others. The FBR is the maximum federal dollar amount paid to an aged, blind, or disabled person who receives SSI/SSP. FBR is linked to the consumer price index. The Federal Benefit Rate for 2019 provides for a maximum SSI disability payment of $771 for an eligible individual and $1,157 per month for an eligible married couple. (The FBR increases annually if there is a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment.) See – (Return to main document)

5 A representative payee is an individual or organization appointed by Social Security Administration (SSA) to receive Social Security benefits for people who cannot manage or direct someone else to manage their money. The main responsibilities of a payee are to use the benefits to pay for the current and foreseeable needs of the beneficiary, including paying for food, shelter, clothing, medical care and personal comfort items, and to properly save any benefits not needed to meet current needs. A payee must also keep records of expenses. When SSA requests a report, a payee must provide an accounting to SSA of how benefits were used or saved. – (Return to main document)

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