Social Security Administration to remove food aid as a barrier to certain benefit access

The Social Security Administration has published a final rule to prevent food assistance payments from being reduced for certain beneficiaries.

The change affects Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, which pays monthly benefits to individuals and children who are disabled, blind, or 65 and older who have little or no income or resources.

Approximately 7.4 million Americans receive assistance alone from SSI or in conjunction with Social Security.

Under the new rule, which takes effect on September 30, food will no longer be considered for calculating eligibility for benefits known as In-Kind Support and Maintenance, or ISM.

Currently, support in the form of food, shelter, or both may be considered unearned income for SSI participants, reducing their payments or affecting their eligibility for benefits.

The monthly maximum federal SSI amounts in 2024 are $943 for individuals, $1,415 for couples, and $472 for essential persons, or those who live with and care for an SSI beneficiary.

To be eligible for SSI, beneficiaries must earn less than $1,971 per month at employment. They must also have less than $2,000 in assets per person or $3,000 per couple.

This typically comprises either money or other assets that may be converted into cash, such as bank accounts, bonds, real estate, and stocks.

According to Darcy Milburn, director of Social Security and health care policy at The Arc, a nonprofit organization that serves people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, the new rule eliminates the risk that groceries or meals received from family or friends will reduce SSI beneficiaries’ monthly benefits.

The Social Security Administration, in turn, will no longer have to utilize its limited resources to document every time a beneficiary received free meals before reducing their monthly income by up to a third, she said.

“It represents a really meaningful step to address one of the most complex, burdensome and inhumane policies impacting people with disabilities that receive SSI,” Milburn said in a statement.

The adjustment is the first of numerous updates that the Social Security Administration intends to implement for SSI beneficiaries and applicants.

“Simplifying our policies is a common-sense solution that reduces the burden on the public and agency staff while also promoting equity by removing barriers to payment access,” Social Security Commissioner Martin O’Malley said in a statement.

The new rule may bring some comfort to SSI users as strong inflation drives up food and grocery prices for all Americans.

“People receiving SSI are one of the most food insecure groups in the United States,” stated Thomas Foley, executive director of the National Disability Institute.

The new rule may also result in fewer overpayments or underpayments of benefits, increasing beneficiaries’ financial security, he said.

Congress may have the opportunity to make more significant changes to SSI through a bipartisan bill that would increase the asset restrictions for beneficiaries to $10,000 for individuals, up from $2,000, and $20,000 for married couples, up from $3,000.

“Disability affects everybody, so it’s a bipartisan issue,” Mr. Foley said.

“Restricting asset limits to the $2,000 level really impacts people’s ability to save and build a better financial future,” he added.

In December, bank CEOs, including Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, testified before the Senate that they support modifying SSI standards.

“We have employees who don’t want us to increase their salary because if it goes over a certain amount, they can’t get that benefit which they’re entitled to,” Dimon remarked at the time.

“This definitely should be fixed,” he went on to say.

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