Why do I have to say who lives with me and who pays the household bills when I am applying for SSI Disability?
Learn why, when you are applying for SSI Disability, you must tell Social Security who lives with you and who pays the household’s food & shelter costs.
Why Living Arrangements Matter When Applying for SSI Disability
Your living arrangement is one factor in determining your SSI eligibility and your payment amount when you are applying for SSI Disability. To be eligible for SSI Disability, in addition to meeting the disability qualifications and resource limits, your income, including in-kind income, must be within the income limits and you must be eligible based on your living arrangements. Social Security asks questions about where you live so that they can determine whether you are in a living arrangement that allows SSI payments and so that they can determine whether you are receiving in-kind support and maintenance from other members of the household. Food or shelter that you receive for free or for which you pay less than the fair market value is in-kind support and maintenance. All or part of its value is income used to reduce your SSI payment.
Living Arrangement Defined
For SSI your living arrangement is where you live, who else lives with you, and who pays for the food and shelter costs. You may live in a public or private institution such as a jail, a nursing home, or shelter, or you may live in a private residence by yourself or with others.
Residing in an Institution
If you are an adult, you may be eligible for a small amount of SSI if you live in an institution such as a nursing home where Medicaid pays more than fifty percent of your care. If you are a disabled child, you may be eligible for SSI if Medicaid and/or private insurance pays more than half of your care. The maximum Federal Benefit Amount for an individual residing in such a living arrangement is $30.00 monthly, though some states offer a supplementary payment. This modest amount is intended to cover incidentals that are not provided by the institution. The $30 maximum will be reduced by any countable income you have. For a discussion of countable income, visit our article When I Complete My SSI Application Form, It Asks Me to Declare My Income. Does All My Income Affect My SSI?
Regardless of your SSI disability status, you are not eligible for SSI disability benefits if you are residing in a public institution where Medicaid does not pay more than fifty-percent of your care. Examples of such institutions are jails, prisons, and some nursing homes. One exception is living in a public institution mainly to attend an approved education or job training program. Another exception is living in a publicly operated community residence that serves no more than sixteen people. Also, it’s worth noting that some publicly operated community residences are not considered public institutions.
If you enter a medical facility and your physician expects you will be in the institution for ninety days or less and you need your SSI to maintain the living arrangement you had before you entered the institution, your SSI benefits may continue at the regular rate.
In-kind Support and Maintenance (ISM) Defined
When someone else who pays for all or part of your rent, mortgage, shelter utilities or food by paying the bills directly or buying the food directly, then you are receiving in-kind support and maintenance, which is a type of unearned income. The ISM may come from someone living with you or from someone outside your household.
In-Kind Support and Maintenance in Your Own Household.
You are considered to be in “your own household” if you have rental liability for or ownership interest in the dwelling, if everyone in the household receives cash public assistance, if you live in non-institutional care such as a foster home, or you live with others and pay your pro rata share of shelter and food costs or your pro rata share of shelter and purchase food separately. (Shelter expenses are shelter utilities (power, heat, water/sewer, and garbage) and rent or mortgage, property tax, and if required by the lender property insurance. Your share is the total shelter and shared food expenses divided by the number of people in the household regardless of age.
When you are in your own household, the presumed maximum amount of in-kind support and maintenance that will be used to lower your SSI benefit is an amount equal to one-third of the SSI Federal Benefit Amount plus $20. In 2020, one-third of the maximum is $261.00. This amount changes as the SSI Federal Benefit Amount increases due to cost-of-living adjustments. (See our article How Does the Social Security Administration Decide How Much SSI to Pay Me When I Get an SSI Approval? for information about cost of living adjustments.) If you have no other income, the first $20 of support and maintenance will be excluded. If the actual amount of ISM you are receiving is less than the one-third plus $20 ($281), you can rebut the presumption of one-third by submitting proof of the expenses and of who is paying them.
If you live with your ineligible spouse and you both receive in-kind support and maintenance, then the maximum amount of support and maintenance that can be charged to each is one-sixth of the Federal Benefit Amount.
Let’s look at an example of in-kind support and maintenance when a person lives in his or her own household as defined above. Your rent is $600 and your monthly electric bill is $60. You pay for your own food. A relative pays your electric bill directly to the power company and also pays $240.00 of your rent directly to the landlord. Here’s how your SSI payment would be calculated it you had no other income.
Your in-kind support and maintenance is $300.00 monthly paid shelter costs. One-third of the Federal Benefit Amount plus $20.00 ($28100) is less than the $300.00 your relative is paying, so your countable support and maintenance would be $281.00.
Support and Maintenance Calculation
$240.00 rent paid
+ 60.00 electricity paid
$300.00 total in-kind support and maintenance
$783.00 Federal Benefit Amount
$261.00 1/3 of Federal Benefit Amount
$281.00 chargeable in-kind support and maintenance (less than the actual support)
$281.00 chargeable in-kind support and maintenance because it is less than the actual support
– 20.00 general income exclusion
$261.00 countable in-kind support and maintenance
$783.00 Federal Benefit Amount
– 261.00 countable support and maintenance
$522.00 SSI payable
In-Kind Support and Maintenance When You Live in the Household of Another
If you live only with people whose income may be deemed to you, you will not be charged with in-kind support and maintenance when they pay for your shelter and/or food. For an explanation of deemed income, please see our article Why Do I Have to Give Information about My Family’s Income and Assets When I Apply for SSI Benefits?
If you rent a room in a private residence and you do not share food and shelter costs, you may be considered to be living alone and in your own household. However, if you live with people whose income and resources are not subject to deeming and you are not in a separate household paying room rent and eating separately or paying a flat rate for room and board, then the Social Security Administration needs verification of the amounts that the whole household pays for shelter expenses and food if you share food as well as the amount you contribute to those costs. They use this information to determine whether you are paying your share of food and shelter. If you are not, then you are receiving in-kind support and maintenance and your benefit will be reduced by one-third.
For example, let’s say that you live with your sister. You share an apartment and eat together. The total household cost for rent, utilities, and food is $1,200 a month. Your share is one-half or $600.00. You use $400 of your savings to pay toward these costs. Because you are not paying your share, you are subject to a one-third reduction of $261 and your SSI benefit will be $522 until such time as you start paying your full share. In 2020, SGA is usually $1,260 in gross wages or net self-employment profit for non-blind workers and $2,110 for blind workers. Earnings can be reduced by Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE’s) including but not limited to medications taken for your disabling illness or injury.
Now let’s change the example a little bit and say that your niece and nephew, who have no income, move in with you and your sister. The expenses go up to $1,400. Now your share is one-fourth of the total costs or $350. You continue to contribute $400. Because you are paying your share, you are no longer receiving in-kind income from the other members of the household and two months after you start to pay your share your SSI will no be reduced for in-kind support and maintenance and your benefit will increase to $783.
What about Homelessness?
If you are homeless you have the same rights and privileges when applying for SSI Disability as someone who is not homeless.
If you are eligible for SSI and don’t have a permanent address, you can have your benefits sent to a bank account, paid to a Direct Express® debit card, mailed to a third party, or paid to someone assigned as your representative payee. For an explanation of representative payees, see our article What Is a Social Security Disability Representative Payee? Everything in that article is applicable to SSI payees.
Except for some low-cost “safe haven” facilities, living free in a shelter usually results in support and maintenance and a reduction in payment amount. The rules for living in an institution are the same as for someone who is not homeless. Even so, there are some publicly operated community residences that are not considered public institutions for SSI payment purposes and living in a public homeless shelter for as much as nine months a year will not result in a reduction in benefits. If you are homeless and applying for SSI, you will need to get information about how any shelter you may be living in is funded.
We hope that this article has been helpful in clarifying the role living arrangements play in eligibility and payment when you are applying for SSI Disability. To understand your specific living arrangement in relationship to SSI, it is advisable to contact the Social Security Administration or to get guidance from a lawyer for Social Security and SSI.