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Another Voice: Rule changes benefit SSI recipients and limit overpayment withholdings

By Jeffrey Freedman

Imagine living in today’s economy on $943 a month. That is what 7 million individuals living on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) receive.

Now imagine that amount being reduced by one third because your roommate buys you groceries. Because SSI is a needs-based program, claimants’ income and assets have to be reported and can result in a reduction of benefits. Under the current rule, in-kind support (someone else paying certain living expenses) is calculated as income to the claimant and results in a reduction in benefits.

As part of an overall plan to simplify access to SSI for adults and children with disabilities or blindness, new rules regarding In-kind Support and Maintenance (ISM) for beneficiaries were approved and will take effect this September. Currently, food provided by family or friends counts as in-kind support and reduces an SSI recipient’s monthly benefit. Under the new rule, food will no longer be counted as in-kind support regardless of the source.

Social Security became law in 1935, originally to keep older workers out of poverty by having them pay taxes into a system that would provide benefits when they retired. Since then, it has expanded to cover workers who pay taxes but become unable to work due to a disability before retirement age (Social Security Disability {SSD}) and SSI.

Another rule change that took place this past March relates to the overpayment of benefits. Under the previous rule, the Social Security Administration would withhold 100% of a recipient’s benefit until the overpayment was repaid. As of March 25, 2024, the agency will withhold 10% (or $10 whichever is greater) from the recipient until the overpayment is repaid. There are limited exceptions such as an overpayment that resulted from fraud. SSA will now also readily approve repayment plans up to five years compared to three years prior to this change.

SSD and SSI provide a much needed, but fragile social safety net. Benefits are minimal (the average SSD payment is $1,489/month and SSI is $943 as stated), plus they are extremely challenging to obtain. These new rules are a huge step in the right direction. The less fortunate among us deserve a social safety net that is protected by well-conceived, humane laws which stand regardless of changing political climates.

The original article appeared in The Buffalo News.