Who Determines Benefit Levels for the Supplemental Security Income Program?

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is a government-funded, needs-based plan intended to provide financial support to low-income individuals and families who can’t afford the cost of their basic daily needs. Frequently, people who qualify for SSI benefits are also eligible for other federal, state, and locally funded assistance programs.

Who Sets Your SSI Benefit Payment Amount?

An experienced SSI lawyer will explain how the payment amounts are determined for each SSI applicant. The London Eligibility Service at the Law Office of Scott London is an expert in representing SSI applicants through the entire process. Attorney London will answer all your questions. In the meantime, here is a general overview of how your SSI benefits amount is determined.

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), where benefit payments depend on each applicant’s prior earnings, the SSI program presumes every SSI applicant qualifies for the maximum benefit level. In 2022, the maximum monthly SSI benefit amount is $794.

The actual benefit payment an applicant receives is determined by adding together the applicant’s other earned and unearned countable income. Once the amount of other countable income is determined, that amount is deducted from the presumed maximum payment. The SSI monthly benefit payment is equal to the amount of the $794 remaining after the recipient’s countable income is deducted.

Example of Benefit Determination Formula

Let’s run through a sample case to demonstrate how the benefit amount is determined. In this example, our applicant will be single and living in subsidized housing, receive food and heating public assistance, and also have an adult child living elsewhere who sends them $200 a month the help out with expenses. SSI starts with a monthly benefit of $794 (the 2021 maximum) for every applicant.

The first $20 of unearned income per month is not counted, leaving $180 as countable income. The other income is also unearned (not from employment) and is not counted by SSI in setting a benefit amount. The countable $180 will be deducted from the $794 maximum benefit, making the remaining $614 the applicant’s monthly SSI benefit payment.

Countable Income v. Non-countable Income

The government understands that the monthly SSI benefit payment is not generous enough to pay for all a recipient’s monthly expenses. The availability of other assistance programs means that an SSI recipient is usually entitled to benefit from programs targeted to pay particular monthly costs. Those other program benefits are considered income to the SSI applicant, but they are not counted for the purpose of setting a person’s SSI benefit level.

Non-countable Income. (Unearned or Earned)

The following list shows some of the primary exclusions from countable income. Any benefits or payments you receive from these sources is not included when SSI adds up your monthly income:

1). Any benefits or payments you receive from needs-based programs funded entirely by either the state, county, or local government; (A needs-based program is anyone that considers your income as a basis for benefit eligibility.)

2). Housing/rent subsidies from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or under any other federal housing act;

3). The value of any food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps;

4). Any tax refunds from public agencies for real estate or food taxes;

5). Any grant, scholarship, fellowship, or gift set aside exclusively to pay tuition, fees, or other education-related expenses (not including food or housing);

6). Any funds received by presidential authorization through the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act;

7). Any travel voucher received by you or your spouse as a gift to cover travel costs anywhere in the 50 states or in any U.S. territory that is not converted into cash;

8). Any funds or services received as compensation to victims of crime;

9). The first $60 of income received in any quarter from a source not regularly expected; (the funds must not have been received in the previous month or the subsequent month);

10). The first $20 of unearned income in a month,

11). Any payments made for the support of a non-eligible child placed in your home by a certified state or non-profit private agency;

12). Any benefits received from a state or municipal agency, or a non-profit private organization either in funds or in kind for home heating assistance, cooling, energy assistance, including;

13). One-third of support payments from an absent parent to or for an eligible child;

14). Any unearned income you receive to fulfill an approved plan toward self-support if you are blind or disable and under the age of 65;

15). The value of state supplements to SSI (vary from state to state);

Month to Month Increases or Decreases

It is common for the income and financial resources of SSI benefit recipients to change from month to month. Expected income may not arrive, state or local program eligibility requirements may change. Seasonal work may allow someone to earn some extra money for a few months.

If your monthly benefit amount is reduced because your income increased temporarily, make sure you report any reduction in your income immediately so you can resume getting your SSI benefits.