Three Ways to Avoid a Reduction in SSI Benefits Due to In-Kind Support and Maintenance (ISM)
June 8th, 2022
Only individuals with limited income and assets are eligible for Supplemental Security Income, known as SSI. (Do not confuse SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) which is a very different program.) If an individual who receives SSI is given cash by a friend or a family member or even by the trustee of a special needs trust for the benefit of that individual, the SSI benefit will be reduced dollar-for-dollar.
Example 1: Assume Martha has a daughter named Daphne. Martha gives Daphne $1,000 in the month of January to pay rent. Daphne would lose her SSI for the month because of the receipt of that cash which exceeds her SSI benefit of $841 in 2022.
SSI is intended to pay for food and shelter. When the individual on SSI receives food and shelter from someone else, the Social Security Administration treats that as “in-kind support and maintenance” or ISM. Like cash, it can reduce SSI benefits but in a different way than cash gifts. Instead, when the individual receives ISM, the SSI benefit will be reduced dollar-for-dollar but only up to a maximum of one-third of the SSI benefit.
Example 2: Assume that Daphne lives with Martha rent-free. Instead of receiving the full SSI benefit of $841 in 2022, Daphne’s SSI will be reduced by one-third ($841 - $280.33).
Example 3: The same reduction will occur if, instead of giving Daphne $1,000 to pay for rent, Martha pays the landlord $1,000 directly.
Here are three ways to support someone you care about who has SSI while avoiding creating ISM and the resulting reduction in the SSI benefit:
- Pay for Expenses Other than Food and Shelter.
Instead of paying for items that are considered ISM, pay for items that are not considered ISM. For example, instead of paying for the individual’s electricity bill, pay for the individual’s cable bill.
Below is a list of the only items which Social Security deems ISM. Compare that to the list of items that you could pay for without a reduction in SSI benefits.
Home insurance (but only if it is required by the terms of a mortgage)
Real property taxes
Household furnishings and furniture
Phone and cell phone services
Cable and internet services
Vehicles, including insurance, gas, and maintenance
Education, tutoring, tuition
Medical expenses including equipment, medication, therapy, treatment
If the individual can’t pay for their food and shelter from their SSI, talk to a special needs planning attorney who may be able to help.
- Sign a Rental Agreement.
As illustrated in Example 2 above, providing housing at no cost to an individual who receives SSI will reduce the benefit amount. To avoid ISM, families should sign a rental agreement. The rental agreement will set forth the household expenses included as part of the rent payments (i.e., the ISM items listed above). All other expenses will be outside of the rental agreement. The Social Security may require proof that the rent is based on fair market value and verification that rent has been paid by the individual.
- Fund an ABLE Account.
For individuals whose onset of disability was prior to age 26, an ABLE account is a simple way to avoid ISM. (The individual does not have to receive SSI by age 26.) A friend, family member, or the trustee of the special needs trust can contribute to an individual’s ABLE account. The individual can then use the funds in an ABLE account for any “qualified disability expense,” including food and shelter. There is no impact on SSI benefits if the individual uses funds from their ABLE account to pay for the items that would otherwise be considered ISM. Note that an individual may have only one ABLE account, and there is an annual cap for total deposits (from all sources) to an ABLE account. That cap is $16,000 in 2022.