Social Security completes change to SSI benefits

The Social Security Administration is moving forward with a major change to how it calculates monthly Supplemental Security Income benefits for people with disabilities.

The agency said that starting this fall, it will no longer take food into account when determining what is known as «in-kind support and maintenance.»

Under current rules, SSI benefits can be reduced — in many cases by about a third — if someone else routinely provides meals or groceries for the beneficiary. Now that will change.

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«A vital part of our mission is helping people access essential benefits, including SSI,» said Social Security Commissioner Martin O’Malley. «Simplifying our rules is a common-sense solution that reduces the burden on the public and agency staff and helps promote equity by removing barriers to accessing payments.»

IN final rule announced late last month, the Social Security Administration said that as of September 30, it will stop taking food costs into account in calculations of in-kind and maintenance benefits.

The agency will continue to take housing costs into account, meaning that SSI benefits may be terminated if the beneficiary does not contribute to the rent, mortgage or overhead costs of their stay.

The change will limit the amount of information SSI recipients must report, ensure the rules are easier for everyone to understand and reduce variability in SSI payments from one month to the next, officials said. In addition, Social Security expects administrative savings because the agency will no longer have to spend time tracking food that is given in kind.

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However, even with the update, Social Security said it will continue to ask beneficiaries who live in another person’s household if someone else in the household pays for them or provides all of their meals.

Advocates for people with disabilities welcomed the new rule.

«Calculations for in-kind support and maintenance are often ridiculous and cruel, causing SSI recipients to lose benefits for things like sleeping on someone’s couch or getting help paying for groceries,» said Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. «No one should lose their necessary benefits because of things like this. By excluding food from ISM, the Social Security Administration will make it easier for people receiving SSI to get food and nutrition assistance. This particularly affects people who live with friends and family, as many autistic people who receive SSI do.”

The update could have broad implications, with the Social Security Administration saying it has cut benefits for 793,000 recipients starting in January 2022 because they were receiving food or shelter assistance.

The rule change is one of «several updates» Social Security said are in the works to SSI regulations, all aimed at helping people who receive and file for benefits under the program.

About 7.5 million Americans receive SSI each month, with a maximum federal benefit of $943 for individuals and $1,415 for couples.

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