In kind foodUnder the provisions of a new regulation, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will no longer consider food expenses in their in-kind support and maintenance calculations for those receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits; instead, they will “consider only shelter expenses (i.e., room, rent, mortgage payments, real property taxes, heating fuel, gas, electricity, water, sewerage, and garbage collection services).” This is much-needed relief from an overly strict rule for SSI recipients.

SSI assistance for aged, blind, and disabled Americans is based on financial need, not work history. The Supplemental Security Income program has stringent eligibility requirements that, until now, haven’t been adjusted for decades. To be eligible for SSI benefits, there are income limits, both earned and unearned. In 2024 the unearned income limit is $963 per month for an individual and $1,435 per month for a couple.

In-kind support and maintenance (ISM) is considered unearned income for SSI recipients. ISM is food or shelter, or both, that someone provides for free or for less than its fair market value. The Social Security Act considers ISM when determining SSI eligibility and payment amounts. Up to now, an SSI beneficiary had to report if somebody outside of their household (even friends and family members) helped them by paying some or all their food or shelter costs (ISM). The maximum SSI benefit is a paltry $943 per month for an individual (which is about 25% below the current federal poverty level). If a beneficiary is receiving ISM, their benefit amount can be slashed by as much as one-third, meaning a $314 a month reduction for those earning the maximum benefit.

Effective in September 2024, food donations will no longer be part of the SSA’s ISM calculations. In a press release the SSA said “the new policy removes a critical barrier for SSI eligibility due to an applicant’s or recipient’s receipt of informal food assistance from friends, family, and community networks of support.”

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska