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Who Determines Benefit Levels For Supplemental Security Program?
The amount of your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment is determined by applying a standard equation to the amount of other “countable income” you earn or receive in your household. The SSI program is a needs-based plan intended to provide a financial safety net for low-income individuals and families who are unable to meet their basic needs.
New Jersey SSI attorney M.J. Ellis will explain exactly how the formula used by SSA applies in your case, with a general explanation of how the amount of your SSI benefit payment is calculated.
How Is My Benefit Amount Determined?
The formula for setting your SSI payment amount begins by assuming you are eligible for the maximum available benefit level; the 2021 cap is $794 per month for an individual and $1,191 for an eligible couple.
Next, the Social Security Administration (SSA) examines the amount of other funds you receive including both earned and unearned income. The government does not count all the other income against you though. They divide the money and services you receive into “unearned income” and “earned income.” Then they divide each of those into “countable” and “non-countable” income.
What’s Unearned Income?
Unearned income is any financial support you receive from other public programs or government sources. Those include housing assistance in the form of rent subsidies from HUD, heating assistance, Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), financial help like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), any state financial support you receive (unemployment, temporary disability comp.), alimony or child support, gifts, inheritances, pensions or interest, and dividends.
The SSA does not count some of this income against your SSI benefit level. The government does NOT count the following against you:
- any assistance funded entirely by the state or other political subdivision
- grants or scholarships used for tuition or education expenses
- disaster or emergency relief authorized by presidential declaration
- HUD rent subsidies and SNAP food support
- one-third of child support from parents outside the home
- increase in value of burial plot or interest on funds dedicated to that purpose
- if funds are received from a non-needs-based program, the first $20 is not counted
- the first $60 of funds received each quarter if received irregularly and not in successive months
What’s Earned Income?
Earned income is just what it sounds like, money or things of value received in return for services or work. As with unearned income, the SSA does not count the following earned income against your SSI benefit:
- the Earned Income Tax Credit
- impairment-related expenses enabling blind or disabled recipients to work
- the first $65 of unused $20 monthly exclusion plus one-half of the remainder
- the first $30 of irregularly received income per quarter not in successive months
A Word About Deemed Income
Deemed income is another category of income the SSA takes into consideration when the government is calculating your monthly SSI payment amount. Deemed income is the money or other things of value another member of your household, your spouse, your parent, or another ineligible person receives that reduces the expenses you must pay. If your ineligible spouse pays all the rent from their funds, then the SSA deems your share of the rent to be countable unearned income. These technical procedures are why you should contact an expert SSI lawyer to review all of the income figures in your case.
Calculating Your SSI Benefit Payment
Once the SSA separates any uncountable income from your countable income, the amount of your income that is not excluded is deducted from the maximum benefit amount of $784. If your countable income is $250 per month, then subtracting that amount from the $784 maximum level would give you a monthly SSI payment of $534.
How M.J. Ellis Law Office Can Help Maximize Your SSI Benefit Payment
The method used to calculate everyone’s monthly SSI benefit amount is the same. But a skilled SSI lawyer can look at your figures individually, ensuring that you are credited with every uncountable item of income you are entitled to, and you are not overcharged for any of the countable income in your SSI claim.
It’s also important to remember that earned and unearned income can vary from month to month. If you happen to receive more countable earned income one month, or for a period of a few months, the month in which that income decreases can requalify you for a higher SSI benefit payment. It is the SSI recipient’s responsibility to accurately report what financial support and income they receive from month to month. If you mistakenly report an item of income incorrectly, the SSA may reduce your benefit payment in error. Consulting with an expert SSI lawyer like M.J. Ellis will avoid mistakes that reduce the monthly SSI payment you need so desperately.