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Do COVID-19 stimulus checks affect SSI benefits?

No. The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced in August 2021 that pandemic-related economic impact payments, popularly known as stimulus checks, will no longer be counted as income in determining eligibility or calculating benefit amounts for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

This change is retroactive. Social Security says it will restore SSI payments for recipients whose benefits were reduced or terminated because they received stimulus payments before the rule change.

The issue arises from the role income plays in eligibility for Supplemental Security Income, a need-based benefit for older and disabled people with very limited financial resources that Social Security administers. About 7.8 million people were receiving monthly SSI benefits as of July 2021, 2.3 million of them 65 and older.

To qualify for SSI, your income must not exceed strict caps the SSA sets and adjusts annually for inflation. The rules encompass both work earnings and money from other sources, such as government benefits or help from family members. If you are above the limit, you cannot get SSI in most cases. If you're below, you may qualify for SSI, but your monthly payment may be reduced by a portion of your income.

Not all income, however, is "countable” for SSI purposes. The SSA exempts a share of earnings from employment and some types of government aid. These exclusions now include the $1,200, $600 and $1,400 payments delivered to most Americans as part of the three economic-relief packages Congress approved during the coronavirus pandemic.

If your benefits were cut

The SSA says it is reviewing records going back to the start of the pandemic to identify SSI beneficiaries whose payments were reduced or terminated because they received stimulus checks. If this is your situation, you should not have to take any action. The agency will notify you by mail when it has restored your benefits or claim status or if it needs information from you to do so.

If you filed a claim for SSI during the pandemic and were denied because of COVID-19 financial assistance, “we will contact you by mail to tell you what you need to do,” the SSA says. “You do not need to call before you hear from us unless you have moved since your claim was denied."

If you have questions about your benefit status or about applying for SSI, call your local Social Security office or the SSA's national help line at 800-772-1213.

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Keep in mind

  • Other types of federal pandemic aid also are excluded from SSI countable income, including extra unemployment benefitsPaycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness and funeral assistance for victims of COVID-19. You'll find the full list of exemptions on the SSA's coronavirus updates page.
  • The maximum federal SSI payment for an individual in 2021 is $794 a month. Taking into account the various exclusions, the 2021 income caps are $1,673 a month if you receive earnings only from work and $814 a month if your income is from other sources.
  • Pandemic financial aid has no bearing on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the other benefit the SSA provides for people with disabilities. Income can affect SSDI eligibility, but only income that comes from work.

Published August 20, 2021

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