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How Does My Income Affect My SSI?

Find out why it is important to declare all of your income on your SSI application form and see which kinds of income don’t count for SSI.

When I complete my SSI application form, it asks me to declare my income. Does all my income affect my SSI?

Find out why it is important to declare all of your income on your SSI application form and see which kinds of income don’t count for SSI.

The Definition of Income

Income for SSI is money or in-kind goods that can be turned into cash to pay shelter and food expenses. In-kind income is also the payment of food and shelter by another person. If you are married, the Social Security Administration considers the income your spouse receives. If you are a child under eighteen, the income your parents receive is evaluated in determining your payment amount. All this income must be declared on your SSI application form.

Earned income is compensation for work activity. All income that does not come from work activity is unearned income. This article focuses on unearned income. Some of the types of countable income are disability and retirement benefits, worker’s compensation, inheritances, and cash awards and prizes. Some amounts and types of unearned income are not counted.

Understanding Income for your SSI Application Form

The more countable income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be. If your countable income is over the SSI income limit, you cannot receive SSI. In 2019, to be eligible for a federal SSI payment, as an individual your countable income must fall below $771. Eligible couples’ income must be under $1,157. However, as is discussed later in this article, not all income is countable.

When completing an SSI application form, it is important to list all your cash income and all in-kind income, including expenses that are paid for you by another person. If you were to take a guess on what was countable income, even if you had done a little research, you might be wrong because SSI laws regarding income are detailed and include a lot of exceptions. Further, if you were to omit countable income from your SSI application, you could leave yourself open to overpayments and even to fraud charges.

Income That Doesn’t Affect SSI

There are many, many unearned income exclusions. Some of them apply all the time and others apply only in certain circumstances. Some are provided for by SSI law and others are mandated by other federal laws. Many apply both to the income of the SSI applicant and the income of others who deem income to the applicant. 

The first $20 of unearned income, whether in cash or in-kind is excluded. Irregular or infrequent income of $60 or less per calendar quarter is also excluded. 

There are more than fifty other unearned income exclusions that may apply to your SSI claim. Some of the most common are:

  • The value of food stamps, now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.
  • Women, Infants and Children nutritional program, often called WIC.
  • Federal Income tax refunds.
  • Most home energy assistance to help you pay your heating bill.
  • Assistance based on need that is funded by your state or local government.
  • Grants, scholarships, and other income received to pay educational expenses, as long as they are in fact used for education.
  • Income set aside for a Plan to Achieve Self-Support.
  • Many forms of Housing and Urban Development subsidies and some other housing subsidies.
  • School lunches and breakfasts.
  • Foster care payments.
  • Third-party payments for expenses that are not food or shelter, such as telephone and medical bills.
  • Death benefits that are used for the deceased person’s final illness and funeral expenses.
  • Shelter received from private, non-profit organizations.

Again, you do not have to sort out what income counts and what does not when you complete your SSI application form. The Social Security Administration will determine what counts and what does not, and they’ll let you know.

Is any of my income excluded from deeming when my spouse or child is qualifying for SSI benefits?

Learn which kinds of income are excluded from deeming when qualifying for SSI disability as a citizen adult, a citizen child or a sponsored alien.

Legally Mandated Exclusions That Apply to All Deeming

Deemed income is the portion of an ineligible person’s income that is considered available to an SSI applicant or recipient. Some types of income are excluded when adding up the deemer’s income and the income of ineligible children living in the household. When you apply for SSI benefits, the Social Security Administration will tell you whether or not a specific kind of income affects your SSI application.

Excluded income falls into two categories: income excluded by Social Security law and income excluded other federal laws. This first list itemizes various types of income that federal law other than the Social Security Act excludes from deeming to a potentially eligible SSI applicant. These types of income are excluded from the deemed income calculation for any SSI applicant except as noted related to sponsor-to-alien deeming.

The following is a partial list of exclusions from deeming that are provided for by Social Security law. They apply only to spouse-to-spouse deeming and parent-to-child deeming, unless otherwise noted.

  • All of the federally mandated exclusions just listed above.
  • Any public income maintenance payments and any income which was counted or excluded in figuring the amount of that payment.
  • Any of the income of an ineligible spouse, parent, or ineligible child that is used by a public income-maintenance program to determine the amount of that program’s benefit to someone else.
  • Any portion of a grant, scholarship, or fellowship used to pay tuition or other educational expenses.
  • Money received for providing foster care to an ineligible child.
  • The value of food stamps and the value of Department of Agriculture donated foods. These are also excluded from the income of an essential person or the sponsor of an alien by other federal statute.
  • Home produce grown for personal consumption.
  • Tax refunds on real property or food purchased by the family.
  • Income used to fulfill an approved Plan to Achieve self-support.
  • Any income that is used to comply with the terms of court-ordered support or support payments enforced under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act.
  • The value of in-kind support and maintenance. In-kind home energy assistance, housing, utilities, and food are excluded from an ineligible spouse’s or parent’s income and from the income of an ineligible child or of an eligible alien who is sponsored by an ineligible spouse or parent. However, in-kind income from work or other sources that is not support and maintenance, that is not compensation in the form of shelter or food, is countable at its current market value.
  • Periodic payments made by a state under a program established before July 1, 1973 and based solely on duration of residence and attainment of age sixty-five.
  • Disaster assistance. Some types of disaster assistance may also be excluded from the income of an essential person or the sponsor of an alien.
  • Infrequent or irregular income to certain limits.
  • Work expenses of the blind.
  • Income paid under a Federal, State, or local government program to provide chore, attendant, or homemaker services to the eligible individual.
  • Certain home energy assistance and support and maintenance assistance. Such assistance is also excluded from the income of an essential person or the sponsor of an alien;
  • An ineligible child’s or sponsored alien child’s earned income up to the monthly and yearly maximums for the Student Earned Income Exclusion, provided that the child is a student as defined by Social Security. The exclusion applies in sponsor-to-alien deeming as well.
  • Exclusion of revenues from the Alaska Native Fund paid under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Public Law 92-203, as amended.

Excluded by Other Federal Laws

  • Compensation provided to volunteers in the foster grandparents programs and other similar programs, unless determined by the Director of the Action Agency to constitute the minimum wage.
  • Food stamps and Department of Agriculture donated foods.
  • Disaster assistance may be excluded.
  • The value of any assistance paid with respect to a dwelling unit under The United States Housing Act of 1937; the National Housing Act, Section 101 of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965, or Title V of the Housing Act of 1949. This exclusion applies to the income of sponsors of aliens only if the alien is living in the housing unit for which the sponsor receives the housing assistance.
  • Per capita payments under section 6 of Public Law 94-540 made to, or held in trust for, members of the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians in Indian Claims Commission docket number 40-K. This applies to the income of sponsors of aliens only if the alien lives in the sponsor’s household.
  • Per capita judgment funds to tribes or groups under section 7 of Public Law 93-134, as amended. This applies to the income of sponsors of aliens only if the alien lives in the sponsor’s household.
  • Revenues from the Maine Indians Claims Settlement Fund and Land Acquisition Fund paid under section 5 of Public Law 96-420. This applies to the income of sponsors of aliens only if the alien lives in the sponsor’s household.

Why do I have to give information about my family’s income and assets when I apply for SSI benefits?

The idea behind deemed income and resources is that SSI law presumes that members of a family unit are financially responsible for one another when they live in the same household. Accordingly, SSA considers or “deems” that a portion of certain family members’ income and assets are available to support the SSI recipient. Similarly, they consider the sponsor of a non-citizen immigrant to be responsible for the financial welfare of the person sponsored and deem the sponsor’s income and assets to the sponsored alien applicant. For these reasons, when you apply for SSI benefits, you must provide proof of your family’s and/or, sponsor’s income and resources so they can be considered in determining whether you meet the financial qualifications for SSI Disability payments.

Deemed Income

Deemed income is the portion of an ineligible spouse’s, an ineligible parent’s or an ineligible step-parent’s, a sponsor’s, or an essential person’s income that is considered or “deemed” to be available to a disabled or aged spouse, disabled child,disabled or aged sponsored non-citizen, or  person who is receiving an SSI payment increment for an Essential Person. Deemed income is included in calculating whether an individual meets the SSI income requirements.

Deemed Resources

Similarly, deemed resources are the portion of an ineligible spouse’s, ineligible parent’s, ineligible sponsor’s, or essential person’s countable assets (resources) that are considered available for the support of the disabled or aged SSI applicant.

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