Supplemental Security Income ‘SSI’ Benefits

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Tulsa Oklahoma Supplemental Security Income Lawyer

The following article was written by Tulsa, Oklahoma Social Security Disability Attorney M. Scott Ash.  Over a legal career spanning more than twenty-five years Lawyer Scott Ash has won several thousand Social Security Cases (including both adult and childhood Supplemental Security Income claims) on behalf of his disabled clients in both Oklahoma & Colorado.  Scott accepts and handles disability cases throughout the state of Oklahoma and regularly appears at all three Oklahoma Social Security Office of Disability Adjudication & Review hearing offices located in McAlester, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. In general–Supplemental Security Income, or ‘SSI’ is a Federal ‘needs based’ cash assistance program for those individuals who do not qualify for other disability cash benefit programs.  This includes other Social Security benefit programs but also private retirement &/or disability plans as well as state or Federal Workers’ Compensation benefit programs.  This is necessarily so since asset and resource limitations apply to all SSI cases and to the extent these other possible sources of support are available to the individual–Supplemental Security Income will not be payable. Generally a supplement security income recipient will obviously be disabled but also be a person who in not insured for disability benefits because he or she has either:

  • never worked;
  • not worked long enough (to obtain insured status);
  • last worked several years ago and quit working for reasons unrelated to his or her medical problems;
  • worked but unfortunately did not pay FICA taxes (i.e. “worked under the table”); and
  • is not otherwise entitled to a disability insurance benefit based upon a relationship and the earnings record of another.

Please contact ASH  |   LAW if you have questions regarding your Oklahoma or Colorado SSI, Disabled Insured Worker, Childhood Disability or Widow/Widower’s case.

Introduction to Supplemental Security Income 'SSI' Cash Benefits

Supplemental Security Income, or simply SSI, is a Federal benefit program administered by SSA. The SSI program is authorized by Title XVI of the Social Security Act and was established to provide monthly cash benefit assistance to individuals who are eligible for the program because they have limited income and resources and are:

  • AGED: defined as someone 65 or older;
  • BLIND: defined as someone whose vision, with use of a corrective lens, is 20/200 or less in the better eye or who has tunnel vision of 20 degrees or less;
  • DISABLED: defined as someone unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

Disability and blind children are also included in the SSI  program.  Under SSI, there is no minimum age limit for establishing eligibility based on blindness or disability. The basic purpose of SSI is to assure a minimum level of income to aged, blind, or disabled persons who otherwise have limited income and resources.

Method, Timing & Payment of SSI Cash Benefit Checks

WHAT IS THE EARLIEST DATE AN SSI CHECK CAN START: If all disability and other requirements are otherwise met Supplemental Security Income benefits are not paid in the calendar month the recipient files his or her claim application.  Instead the following month after the month any individual files his or her application (or the month he or she first becomes eligible and meets other non-disability requirements) will be the first month such applicant can or will start receiving his or her cash SSI check.
TO WHOM ARE SSI CASH BENEFITS MADE: Supplemental Security Income cash benefit checks or direct deposit payments are paid either directly to the disabled or otherwise eligible recipient or to a representative payee if that person is mentally, physically or emotionally incapable of managing benefits on his or her behalf.  Representative payees are discussed in great detail elsewhere on this site.

WHAT DAY OF THE MONTH ARE SSI CHECKS SENT OUT: SSI cash benefit checks are issued by the U.S.  Treasury.  Supplemental Security Income payments are generally dated and delivered on the first day of the  month that they are due. However, if the first falls on a Saturday,  Sunday, or Federal holiday, they are dated and delivered on the first day  preceding the first of the month that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or  Federal holiday.

State Supplementation Of Basic Supplemental Security Income Benefits

Individual states can supplement the basic SSI cash payments issued by the U.S. Treasury and paid to said states’ residents.  In fact–most States provide supplementary payments to its SSI recipients.  These payments vary from State to State and reflect differences in regional living costs. in addition, any State may make an agreement with the Social Security Administration for Social Security to administer such state’s supplementation program and pay the State supplementary amounts along with the basic SSI benefits–all in one check. NOTE: The State of Oklahoma unfortunately does not supplement its residents’ basic cash benefit payments.  As such–Oklahoma SSI recipients receive only their basic SSI check from the Federal government each month.

Income, Asset & Property Value Limits Which Affect Eligibility For An SSI Check

An individual cannot receive a Supplemental Security Income cash benefit check (or will receive a reduced SSI monthly benefit) if he or she has personal or household income, resources and property (real &/or personal) over a certain threshold amount.  Basically these statutory limits are designed to assure that anyone receiving a social security SSI check truly needs the money and has no other sources to provide a minimum level of support. Although the rules regarding the non-disability eligibility requirements for receiving SSI are quite involved, a brief description of these rules follow.  An in depth analysis of these eligibility requirements based upon need are discussed in detail elsewhere on this site.

INCOME RESTRICTIONS

SSI RECIPIENT’S INCOME & THE FEDERAL BENEFIT RATE (“FBR”): In order to receive an SSI benefit check, an individual cannot have monthly countable income more than the current Federal benefit rate (FBR). The FBR for an eligible couple is approximately one and one half as much as that for an individual. These amounts are set by law and are subject to annual increases based on cost-of-living adjustments.  The current FBR for an individual is $721 and that for a couple is $1,082.  Quite simply if your countable income is more than the FBR, your are not eligible for an SSI check.

WHAT QUALIFIES AS ‘INCOME’ FOR SSI PURPOSES: Social Security defines income for SSI purposes as anything that is used or could be used to meet an SSI applicant &/or recipient’s needs for food or shelter.  It may be cash or in-kind.  In-kind income is food, shelter or something you can use to get food or shelter.  Furthermore–it is important to distinguish earned income from unearned income because not as much earned income is countable.
WHAT CONSTITUTES EARNED INCOME: Social Security defines earned income as:
  • WAGES: wages paid for any individual’s services performed as an employee;
  • SELF-EMPLOYMENT EARNINGS: net earnings from self-employment (estimated for a current year)
  • SHELTERED WORKSHOP EARNINGS: any payments for participating in a sheltered workshop or work activities center program

EARNED INCOME EXCLUSIONS: In figuring countable earned income, certain exclusions are authorized by Federal Law.  Although there are numerous exclusions from earned income, the most common are impairment-related work expenses of an individual who is receiving SSI based upon disability.  Certainly–earned income exclusions cannot be applied to unearned income. IN-KIND INCOME: As noted above “in-kind-income” is income that is not in the form of cash and includes property, food and wages (e.g., room, board, or clothing as compensation for employment).  In-kind income that is unearned and directly satisfies the need for food or shelter is called in kind support and maintenance.  It has special rules for valuation.  All other in kind  income is valued at its current market value. VALUATION OF IN-KIND SUPPORT AND MAINTENANCE: As described above “in-kind support & maintenance” means unearned income in the form of food or shelter that one receives and that is paid for by someone else.  It can be received from someone either inside or outside a SSI recipient’s home.  Social Security uses one of two methods for placing a value on in-kind support and maintenance:

  • One-third Reduction Rule (VTR): Under this rule an amount equal to 1/3 of the applicable FBR is considered the value of the in-kind support and maintenance.  This rule applies if the SSI recipient lives in another person’s household and receives both food & shelter from within that household.  NOTE: You are not living in another person’s household for purposes of the VTR rule if you have an ownership interest in the home, are liable to the landlord for payment of any part of the rental charges, or pay a pro rata share of the average household operating expenses.
  • Presumed Maximum Value Rule (PMV): Under the presumed maximum value rule it will be determined that the value of support and maintenance does not exceed a certain maximum amount (equal to 1/3 of the FBR plus $20–or currently $260.33 for an individual), unless it can be shown that the actual value of the food/shelter received by the SSI recipient is actually lower than that presumed amount.  In such case Social Security will use the lower actual value to determine a recipient’s countable income.  This rule applies in situations when a SSI recipient receives in-kind support and maintenance and the one-third reduction rule does not apply (e.g. living in your own household but someone outside your household pays for the rent, utilities or food; or living in another’s household but not receiving both food/shelter from that other person).
COMPUTING COUPLE’S SSI CASH BENEFIT CHECK(s): An eligible couple’s SSI benefit is the difference between:
  • the combined countable income of both members; and
  • the couple’s FBR.

Whatever benefit is due an eligible couple is usually paid in two equal payments–one to each spouse.

NOTE: The amount of a given individual’s income determines his or her eligibility for SSI and the amount of his or her cash benefit.  Generally the more income an individual receives the lower his or her SSI check.  If such person in fact has too much income he or she is not eligible for SSI benefits. However–not everything one gets is considered income even if it has value and not all income counts in determining one’s eligibility.  The reader is therefore directed elsewhere on this site for a more detailed discussion on how income and resources affect his or her eligibility for SSI and the amount of any resulting post-entitlement check.
NOTE: In certain situations other people are expected to share financial responsibility for a given individual.  In these situations the income (and resources) of others are considered in determining the individual’s eligibility & payment amount.
REAL OR PERSONAL PROPERTY RESTRICTIONS-RESOURCES
The amount of an individual’s resources determines whether he or she is SSI eligible.  In other words–in order to receive SSI benefits, an individual cannot own countable real or personal property (including cash) in excess of a specified amount. In fact, If his or her countable resources are within the limit for eligibility, they have no effect on the amount of his or her SSI check.  If he or she has too many resources, he or she is not eligible for anSSI check.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED A RESOURCE FOR SSI ELIGIBILITY PURPOSES: Not everything a person owns is a resource and not all resources count.  For SSI purposes, a resource is any of the following owned by you (or your spouse, if any): cash, liquid assets, and real or personal property that can be converted to cash to obtain food and shelter.  Generally–if you have the right, authority or power to liquidate the property, it is considered a resource.
NOTE: Liquid resources are those that can be converted to cash within 20 working days.  The most common type are savings and checking accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, promissory notes, certain trusts and types of life insurance.
HOW ARE RESOURCES VALUED: Social Security generally values resources at the price for which the item can reasonably be expected to sell for on the open market, in the particular geographic area, minus any encumbrances (e.g. loan, mortgage).  Cash is valued at its face value.
ITEMS NOT CONSIDERED SSI RESOURCES: Generally any property right that has a legal restriction preventing its sale/liquidation is not considered a resource.  This includes restricted allotted land owned by an enrolled member of an indian tribe.  Finally–if there is more than one owner and the consent of the co-owner(s) is needed for you to liquidate your share, then your share is not a resource if the co-owner(s) do not agree to sell.
APPLICABLE RESOURCE LIMITS: For an individual with a spouse, the applicable limit is one and one-half times as much as that for an individual without a spouse. These limits are set by law, and are not subject to regular cost-of-living adjustments, but they are subject to change. The current limits are $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple.
NOTE: Resources do not affect payment amount, ONLY eligibility.

Exclusions From Countable Resources

In determining countable resources, certain exclusions are authorized by Law.  Although there are many, the most common exclusions are:

  • An individual’s home, regardless of value.  This exclusion only applies to a home owned by said individual (or the individual’s spouse) if this home is the individual’s principle place of residence.  This exclusion not only applies to the individual’s home but to any adjacent land and related buildings on this land;
  • Restricted allotted Indian lands;
  • Household goods and personal effects (regardless of value)
  • One vehicle, regardless of value, if you or a member of your household uses it for transportation;
  • Property of a trade or business without limit;
  • Social Security Disability Insurance or SSI retroactive payments;
  • Federal Income Tax Refunds;
  • Term Life Insurance.

REAL PROPERTY THAT CANNOT BE SOLD: Real property that an individual cannot sell is excluded from his or her resources as long as it cannot be sold because:

  • it is owned jointly with another owner, it is the other owner’s principle residence, and the sale would cause undue hardship (due to loss of housing) to such other owner; and
  • the individual’s reasonable efforts to sell have been unsuccessful*.

*NOTE: Initially Social Security will evaluate an individual’s reasonable but unsuccessful efforts to sell under a 9-month conditional benefits arrangement.  After the 9-months, the property is excluded as long as it cannot be sold and efforts to sell continue.

Mandatory Requirement To File For Other Benefits Before Seeking SSI Check

SSI is a needs-based program of last resort. Therefore, one must file for any other income &/or disability benefits for which he or she may be eligible before seeking or receiving an SSI check.  This requirement means that, before filing his or her application for Supplemental Security Income benefits, any potential SSI applicant must first file for and take all appropriate steps to receive any and all other disability or income benefits, such as Social Security insurance benefits, private pensions, state or federal workers’ compensation benefits, and the like–which provide either periodic or one-time payments &/or are other sources of income that could reduce or even eliminate entitlement to SSI benefits.

NOTE: It is not necessary for an individual to pursue a claim for other benefits through an appeals process.

Periodic Reevaluation Of Recipient's Continuing Eligibility For SSI

Social Security will periodically reevaluate the eligibility of each SSI recipient to insure that eligibility continues and that cash payments are in the proper amount.  This Continuing Disability Review Process, or CDR’s, are discussed in great detail elsewhere on this site and will only be discussed briefly here limited only as to such reviews in SSI cases.
ITEMS COVERED BY REEVALUATION: Except for individuals turning age 18, reevaluation covers all factors of eligibility except age, citizenship, and, unlike the disability review process followed in disability insurance benefit cases–continuing disability or blindness.  Childhood SSI Disability Cases: Every individual eligible based on a disability in the month before the month of turning 18 is subject to a reevaluation of disability based on the initial adult standards.
NOTE: The length of time between scheduled reevaluations varies depending on the likelihood that any given recipient’s situation may change in a way that affects his or her eligibility and/or payment amount.

Receiving Conditional Payments Despite Excess Resources

HOW TO RECEIVE CONDITIONAL PAYMENTS EVEN IF YOU HAVE EXCESS RESOURCES: If your countable resources are more than the applicable limit, you may still be able to receive conditional SSI payments from Social Security.  Conditional payments are made under situations where an individual’s countable resources include same that are non-liquid.  Social Security understands that it can take months to convert non-liquid resources to cash for support and maintenance. CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH ONE CAN RECEIVE ‘CONDITIONAL SSI PAYMENTS: you can receive conditional SSI payments only if:

  • Your total countable liquid resources do not exceed the statutory limit of $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple;
  • You agree to dispose of the excess non-liquid resources within  nine months if real property (3 months for other property) & refund the SSI payments you receive during that period.

NOTE: The time limit for personal property may be extended an additional three months for good cause. SSI ELIGIBILITY IF PROPERTY IS DISPOSED OF BELOW ITS MARKET VALUE: If one gives away or sells a resource at less that its fair market value he or she could be found ineligible for SSI for up to 36 months

Cash Amount Of Supplemental Security Income Check

Currently SSI benefits are paid at the following amounts:

  • If you are an individual you are due the FBR rate of $xx per month, provided you have no countable income;
  • If you are eligible couple you are due the FBR of $1,011 per month, provided you have no countable income

Both of these rates are established in the Social Security Act, and are subject to annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA’s).  The COLA increases the FBR effective in January based upon the increase in the Consumer Price Index.

Presumptive Disability Payments

CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH SOCIAL SECURITY CAN MAKE PRESUMPTIVE DISABILITY SSI PAYMENTS: Social Security can make a presumptive disability payment to an individual if:

  • such individual is applying for the first time for SSI benefits based on disability or blindness;
  • his or her medical condition is such that it presents a strong likelihood that he or she will be found disabled or blind under social security’s rules;
  • he or she meets all non-medical factors of eligibility.

Presumptive disability payments are computed like other SSI benefits these payments may be made for up to six months while you wait for the formal disability decision.  Payments end after six months even if a formal decision has not been made

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