Who Determines Benefit Levels for Supplemental Security Income?

The size of your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit payment is different for everyone. The figure is determined by applying a formula to the specific countable income and countable resources you have. The formula is simple, but identifying what income and resources are “countable” can be more confusing.

You can ensure you are receiving the highest benefit you are eligible for by contacting an experienced SSI lawyer. A professional SSI attorney specializes in making sure your income and resources are accurately counted and that you understand the other government programs you may be eligible for in addition to SSI.

Maximum SSI Benefit Payment

The maximum amount of SSI benefits anyone can receive each month changes every year. In 2021, the maximum monthly benefit payment is $794 for an individual and $1,191 for a couple.

How much less than the maximum you receive depends on your individual circumstances, your income, your property, and the age and health condition of the people you live with.

SSI is a needs-based program that limits eligibility for payments to only those whose low income and lack of resources demonstrate a real need for financial support.

Explaining the SSI Benefits Payment Formula

If you have earned income from working, this affects the amount of SSI benefit you are eligible for. However, low-wage earners working part-time will still qualify for SSI under the formula the government uses to set the payment amount.

Let’s take an example of someone whose monthly earned income is $1,000.

  • The government applies a $20 general exclusion, bringing the income down to $980.
  • Since the income is from working, another $65 exclusion applies, leaving $815.
  • Now, the government divides that amount by 2, leaving a “countable” income of  $407.50.
  • Subtract $407.50 from the maximum monthly SSI payment which is $794.

$794 – $407.50 = $386.50.

In our example, the SSI formula in this example results in a monthly SSI payment of $386.50. The same formula is applied to each case.

What Is Countable Income?

Countable income is the income left over after the Social Security Administration (SSA) subtracts all the non-countable income you may have and reduces that amount by applying the exclusions to which you are entitled. In fact, countable income might best be described by listing what is non-countable income.

Non-Countable Income When the SSA is determining what income to count when figuring your SSI benefits payment, these are the kinds of income that are NOT countable:

  • Food stamps (SNAP)do not count as income.
  • The medical care you receive does not count as income.
  • Income tax refunds are not counted as income.
  • Home energy assistance is not counted as income.
  • Loans of cash do not count as income if you agreed to pay them back.
  • Scholarships and grants for educational expenses do not count as income.
  • Housing provided as shelter by a not-for-profit agency is not counted as income.
  • Food from food banks, churches, or other not-for-profit agencies also is not counted as income.
  • State or other public needs-based assistance is not counted as income.
  • Disability-related work expenses are not counted as income.
  • If others pay for your, utilities, or medical bills, or phone bills, that is not countable income.
  • Any income earned by a student younger than 22 is not countable income if less than $1,931 per month or $7,771 for the year in 2021.

What Are Countable Resources and How Many Can You Have?

To be eligible for Supplemental Security Income in any month, an individual applicant may not have “countable resources” valued at more than $2,000, or $3,000 for a couple. Items that are counted in this valuation include things like the following:

  • cash;
  • bank accounts, stocks, U.S. savings bonds;
  • land;
  • life insurance;
  • personal property;
  • vehicles;
  • anything else you own which could be sold to pay for food or shelter;
  • and deemed resources.

Deemed Resources? Items owned by someone you live with, a spouse, a parent, or a parent’s spouse can be partially counted against an SSI beneficiary’s $2,000 limit. If your spouse owns a second car worth more than the $3,000 allowable for a couple, you may lose eligibility. These are sometimes technical questions that require expert legal analysis. It’s wise to use an experienced SSI lawyer to resolve these questions.

Non-Countable Resources

  • Your residence and its land are not counted;
  • one vehicle, regardless of value, if you or a member of your household use it for transportation;
  • household goods and personal effects (e.g., your wedding and engagement rings);
  • life insurance policies with a combined face value of $1,500 or less;
  • burial spaces for you or your immediate family;
  • burial funds for you and your spouse, each valued at $1,500 or less
  • property you or your spouse use in a trade or business, or on your job if you work for someone else;
  • other items in cases where the beneficiary is blind or disabled.

Your SSI Attorney Will Get You the Highest SSI Payment Possible

The Law Office of Daniel Berger is an expert at making sure your SSI application for benefits is accurate counting any income or resources under the law. The Berger Law team ensures that you are not unfairly charged with more assets or income than is required by SSA regulations.