You can get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if you live with an adult son or daughter, or with siblings, cousins or unrelated roommates, for that matter. Such an arrangement can reduce your monthly benefit, though, depending on how much you contribute to food and shelter costs for the household.
Here’s why: If someone else is partially or fully covering these expenses for you, the Social Security Administration (SSA), which oversees the SSI program, may consider that in-kind income — and income is a factor in calculating benefits.
Each year, Social Security sets a maximum federal benefit for SSI, which provides safety-net payments for people who are disabled, blind or 65 and older and in financial need. For 2022 the maximum monthly payment, known as the federal benefit rate, is $1,261 for a married couple if both spouses get SSI and $841 for an individual.
Those figures are starting points. The SSA can reduce and possibly eliminate the monthly payment based on how much you earn from work or receive in cash or direct support from other sources, such as investments, government programs, or relatives and friends.
Social Security does not factor in all of your income in calculating this benefit deduction. For example, the first $20 of most income you receive each month from any source is exempt. So is the first $65 of work earnings each month and half of any earnings over $65.
The SSA also caps how much your SSI payment can be cut if someone provides you with food and shelter, using one of two methods: the one-third reduction provision or the presumed maximum value (PMV) rule.
For the purposes of this calculation, shelter costs include:
- Mortgage, including property insurance required by the mortgage holder
- Real property taxes, less any tax rebate or credit
- Trash pickup
- Utilities (that is, heating, gas, electricity, water and sewer)
Other household expenses, such as cable bills, phone bills, internet service and groceries other than food, do not count.
It’s important to note that neither the one-third provision nor the PMV rule applies if the person paying your food and shelter expenses is a spouse you live with. The same goes for a child beneficiary living with one or both parents. In these situations, the spouse’s or parent’s income could affect benefits via the SSA’s “deeming” rules, but living expenses are not a factor.
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How living arrangements affect SSI
The one-third provision reduces your SSI payment for a given month by a third of the federal benefit rate — in 2022, that’s about $280 for an individual and $420 for a couple — if you live in someone else’s household for that entire month and do not pay an equal share of food and shelter expenses (for example, a quarter of those costs if you live with three other people).
Where the one-third rule does apply, it applies in full. If you pay something for food and shelter, but it’s less than a pro rata share, your SSI is cut by the full third. There’s no sliding scale.
Social Security uses presumed maximum value to calculate benefits in living situations in which neither the one-third rule nor deeming applies. One such situation is when the beneficiary is not a resident in the other person’s household for the full calendar month; another is when the beneficiary does not receive both food and shelter from one or more housemates.
The PMV deduction can be no higher than one-third of the federal benefit rate plus $20, or $300 a month for an individual and $440 for a couple in 2022. If you have no other income, the SSA applies the general $20 exemption to your food and shelter support, effectively erasing that PMV addition.
Unlike with the one-third provision, the PMV reduction is not fixed. If you can demonstrate to the SSA that the actual value of the food and shelter support you receive is less than the maximum, it will reduce your benefit by the lower amount.
How in-kind support reductions work
Say you are an SSI beneficiary receiving the maximum monthly individual benefit of $841. On April 1, 2022, you move in with your daughter, her spouse and their two children, and you do not pay toward household expenses or bills. The one-third reduction provision applies, and Social Security cuts your benefit by $280.
In May you contribute some money toward food and shelter, but it’s less than your pro rata share — one-fifth of those costs in a five-person household. The SSA again cuts your benefit by $280.
In June you pay no shelter costs but buy all your own food. The one-third provision does not apply, so Social Security uses PMV to figure the benefit reduction. Your SSI benefit will be reduced by $300 ($280 if you have no other income), unless you can show that the value of the shelter you received was less than that.
In July you’re able to pay your full one-fifth share of food and shelter expenses. There is no benefit reduction for in-kind support.
In mid-August you move out of your daughter’s house and get your own place. The one-third provision does not apply because you were not there the entire month. But you are subject to the PMV rule for August’s food and shelter costs. The benefit reduction will be calculated as if you had lived there the whole month.
These are basic examples for illustration; real-world determinations of in-kind support can involve a great many variables about where you live, whom you live with and what they pay for. Contact Social Security to talk with an SSI specialist about how your specific situation may affect your benefit.
How Social Security monitors expenses
The SSA collects details on your living arrangements when you apply for SSI and during "redeterminations," periodic reviews to check continuing eligibility. That information is factored into a determination of whether you’re getting in-kind support and how much. Generally, the SSA uses a 12-month average of food and shelter costs to determine whether your benefit will be affected and by how much.
You are required to notify the agency within 10 days of a shift in living circumstances that could affect your benefit, such as a move, a change in the composition of the household or a change in your contribution for food and shelter. The SSA will factor the new information into determining in-kind support and recalculate your benefit accordingly, typically effective the month of or the month after the reported change.
Keep in mind
- If you live in your own home — one you own or have rental liability for — food and shelter expenses can still affect your benefit if someone else (other than a spouse or minor child who also lives there) covers them.
- The SSA may apply deductions for other income besides in-kind support (from work, for example). Collectively, these reductions can zero out your SSI benefit. If that happens for 12 consecutive months, you may have to file a new application to re-establish your SSI eligibility.
Published December 29, 2021