This year, for the first time, District recipients of the federal Supplemental Security income payments whose checks are augmented with city funds will - perhaps - get the annual cost of living increase provided for by Congress.
Until now, the District and states have reduced their supplements to the federal payments by whatever cost of living increase is granted. But an amendment to the Social Security Act last year requires local agencies to pass on the raise, beginning this July.
The catch is that states are considered in compliance with the "pass on" amendment if their total supplement equals the amount they previously paid.
Consequently, if local SSI rolls increase while the total supplement remains the same, individual recipients will not see the full cost of living raise in their checks.
SSI, established in January, 1974, to aid elderly, blind and disabled poor people who were formerly supported by the states, currently provides $167.80 a month to individuals and slightly more to couples.
The annual increases in the last three years have been $6, $11.70 and $10.10, according to the rising cost of living. The 1977 raise has not been calculated, Social Security Administration officials said.
In the District about 3,200 persons are affected by the potential increase. Nearly 15,000 city residents receive SSI benefits, but the D.C. department of human resources supplements only payments to adults living in foster homes.
DHR acting director Albert Russo announced last week that his department has initiated legislation to increase the City Council-mandated limit of $200 a month to SSI payments.
The maximum payment is the mechanism by which DHR has been able to reduce its contribution to SSI as federal payments rose.
Although DHR has had the option since SSI began to seek such a bill, Russo said efforts to do so were hindered because the "wheels of bureacracy sometimes grind very slow."
"I am not proud of the fact that we were taking from clients and giving to ourselves," Russo said.
The federal government paid $21.9 million to District SSI recipients in 1976, while city supplements totalled about $239,000. Rusoo said DHR was unable to pass on the annual raise until federal law mandated it, largely because funds were deficient.
Men and women living in foster care homes, many of them outpatients from St. Elizabeths Hospital, have complained bitterly about the $200 ceiling on SSI benefits. While city regulations set that limit, other District government actions have kept their share of the benefits at $20 a month, several recipients said recently.
Foster home operators currently receive $180 a month for room, board and supervision of each resident, and the balance of the $200 maximum goes to the recipient.
With the $20 a month, about 66 cents a day, residents said they have to provide their own clothing, laundry and dry cleaning needs, entertainment and other personal requirements.