Social Security’s Latest Rule Could Mean Bigger Payments — If It Passes

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Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients might soon get bigger monthly payments if the Social Security Administration succeeds in pushing through a proposed change in how benefits are calculated.

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The proposed rule, published on the Federal Register in February, would remove food from the calculation of in-kind support and maintenance (ISM), which is unearned income in the form of food and/or shelter. Under the proposal, SSI applicants and recipients would no longer need to provide information about their food expenses for the agency to consider in its ISM calculations.

Currently, SSI payments are reduced by one-third if a person or couple is living in another person’s home and getting food and shelter support from that person, according to the SSA. In this case, “support” is defined as any food, shelter or both that is given to someone or paid for by someone else.

SSI provides a monthly benefit to adults and children with a disability or blindness and resources below specific financial limits. SSI payments are also made to people ages 65 and older who meet the financial qualifications even if they’re not disabled.

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Once a claimant is found eligible for SSI, their monthly payment is determined by subtracting “countable income” from the federal benefit rate (FBR), which is the monthly maximum federal SSI payment. The FBR for 2023 is $914 for an individual and $1,371 for an eligible individual with an eligible spouse, according to the SSA’s Federal Register proposal. Typically, after the first $65 earned each month, a recipient’s SSI benefit will be reduced 50 cents for every $1 of earned income.

When food, shelter or both are provided to an SSI applicant or recipient — such as when someone pays for rent, mortgage, food or utilities — it is considered in-kind support and maintenance. For example, if an applicant or recipient lives with their brother and doesn’t pay rent, the SSA would consider the shelter as ISM.

“We have historically included in-kind receipt of food in our consideration because food assistance helps people meet their basic needs,” the SSA wrote in its proposal. “However, the complexities of our current food ISM policies may outweigh their utility.”

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The agency wants to change the rule for a couple of reasons. One is to simplify its policy with the aim of improving the application, adjudication, compliance and comprehension of its rules. The other is to “promote equity by not disadvantaging an already vulnerable population” when they receive food assistance.

“We expect that the proposed rules would provide increased financial security to impacted beneficiaries; provide consistent treatment of food support regardless of source; reduce unduly burdensome reporting requirements; and facilitate improved food security among certain beneficiaries,” the proposal stated.

The SSA noted that in January 2022, there were about 7.3 million individuals receiving SSI. Based on the SSA’s internal data, the agency reduced the payments of about 793,000 SSI recipients because of ISM during the same month.

The proposed rule will be up for public comment through April 17, 2023, before it can be finalized, according to Disability Scoop. No timeline was given on when it might be approved and put into action.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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