The Social Security Administration is considering making changes to the way that benefits are calculated which could help our country’s most vulnerable populations by (1) increasing their benefit amount and (2) removing restrictions that currently could make food insecurity worse for people who are disabled. Right now, people who are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits have strict limitations that they must abide by in order to receive their full benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). These restrictions are making it difficult for some people to have reliable access to food.
Current SSI regulations
While United States politics may be rife with division right now about issues like Joe Biden, the Midterm Elections, the House of Representatives, Congress, and the Senate, everyone can agree that people these days need help. Under the current SSI rules set by the SSA, someone that is receiving these benefits must report any assistance they get from others with things like rent or food. If someone is receiving such help with living expenses like meals or rent, it is considered to be “in kind support and maintenance” by the SSA. This means that the SSA will then deduct money from that person’s awarded benefit by a certain amount, currently up to 1/3 of the total benefit, to compensate for any outside help that the person is receiving.
What Is "In Kind Support And Maintenance"?
The phrase, “in kind support and maintenance,” refers to assistance with rent, food, or living expenses that is provided to someone receiving disability benefits by other people—typically friends or family members. Anyone receiving SSI has to report the amount of in kind support and maintenance they receive from others. And, once the report this support to the SSA, the SSA will then deduct a portion of their benefit based on how much support they are getting from others. The SSA does this so that people who are disabled are not profiting from their benefits.
Oftentimes, people who are disabled or people who receive SSI in retirement are not easily able to cook meals or grocery shop. As such, receiving meals and assistance from family and friends can help ensure that they have access to nutritious and healthy food. Food banks are also a good source of healthy food for people who are disabled and may be struggling with food insecurity. However, the current policy which requires disabled people to report any food assistance and then reduces their benefits as a result encourages people not to accept or seek out assistance. And that can lead to disabled people going hungry or not having the access they need to affordable nutritious food.
The proposed change to SSI—which will eliminate the need to report food assistance to the SSA—will help many disabled people who are at risk of becoming malnourished or who are experiencing food insecurity.
Proposed Changes to SSI Regulations
This proposed change—to how SSI is calculated—that the SSA is now considering would totally eliminate food from the “in kind support and maintenance” calculation. This would mean that, while any and all contributions to rent or other living expenses would still need to be declared by SSI beneficiaries, food assistance would not. Food expenses would also not need to be reported and food assistance would not be considered income that could reduce that amount of benefit that someone on SSI receives.
Ultimately, the SSA is proposing these changes to make it easier for people receiving SSI to comply with the SSA’s requirements. Right now, the regulations are confusing and may be resulting in people not accepting meals or groceries from friends and family because they are worried that their SSI benefit will be reduced. As a result of this, many people who are either disabled or in retirement are either food insecure or going hungry.
Additionally, these changes will simplify the process and reduce the amount of effort that the SSA staff must put into calculating SSI benefits, assuring compliance with existing regulations, and processing applications. Since many of people who receive SSI also receive other services like Medicare or Medicaid, streamlining this process could also help them streamline other processes they need to go through to get aid.
Advocacy and Support
Many disability advocates support the proposed change and say that it will help ensure that our nation’s most vulnerable people who are receiving benefits are able to reliably access food and accept food and meals from friends and family without having to worry about their SSI. However, some advocates say that the changes are just a beginning, calling on the need for the SSA to do more to help people who are struggling because they are unable to work.
Discussing these changes, Zoe Gross, who is the director of advocacy for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, stated, “We know that autistic people and our households are especially at risk for food insecurity, and giving people more ways to get food without jeopardizing their benefits is a step toward addressing this. This rule will benefit members of our community, particularly those who share a household with supporters, or require assistance accessing food.”
Another prominent advocate, David Goldfarb, who is the director of policy at non-profit The Arc, said, “Ideally, in-kind support and maintenance could be eliminated entirely, which would require a statutory change,” Goldfarb said. “Although Social Security estimates that only a small percent of beneficiaries would see their benefits increase, these rules are complex, intrusive and extremely harsh. They impact every beneficiary because they are forced to comply.”
The SSA is currently accepting comments from the public about their proposed change to the way in which SSI is calculated. If the proposal passes, food assistance or gifted meals will no longer count as income for people receiving SSI and, thereby, will not reduce the amount of money they receive in their monthly SSI paycheck.
Overall, the response to the proposed change from both advocates as well as those who are dependent on SSI has been positive. Both Democrats and Republicans seem to support making changes to the way that SSI and disability benefits are administered. Many advocates feel that the proposed change would help lower the amount of people who receive SSI that are experiencing food insecurity or going hungry by a significant amount. And, during a time when inflation is hitting record high numbers and groceries are getting more expensive every day, allowing our country’s most vulnerable people to freely accept meals and food assistance from family and friends just seems like the right thing to do to make sure that they are able to get the access to the healthy food that they need.
The SSA will be accepting public comments about the proposed rule change until April 17, 2023. You can submit your comment online, by mail, or by fax. You must use reference number SSA-2021-0014 if you are submitting your comment by mail or fax. If you’re submitting a comment online you can go to this site and search for Docket SSA-2021-0014 and submit your comment that way. The SSA strongly prefers online comments.
- Omitting Food From In-Kind Support and Maintenance Calculations – (The Federal Register)
- Social Security Considers Changes in SSI Income Rules – (AARP)
- Social Security's Latest Rule Could Mean Bigger Passes – (Yahoo!)
- Understanding Supplemental Security Income Living Arrangements -- 2023 Edition (Social Security Administration)
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