This morning, I received an email question from a woman named Elena. I’m not sure if Elana is an attorney, a non-attorney rep or a relative of the claimant, but she raises an interesting issue about SSI offsets.
I don’t deal a lot with SSI issues on this blog mainly because I don’t take a lot of SSI cases. If you do not know, there are a number of disability programs administered by Social Security – Title II Social Security Disability (also called SSDI) is one program, and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the other.
SSDI pays benefits to claimants who are disabled and who have a qualifying earnings record. To oversimplify, you qualify for SSDI if you have worked for five out of the last ten years. There are exceptions to this general rule, but basically SSDI applies if you have worked and paid enough Social Security taxes to be “insured” for the SSDI program.
SSI, by contrast, pays benefits to claimants who are disabled but do not have sufficient earnings or assets to qualify for SSDI. An SSI claimant can be a disabled child, a 20 year old with a serious medical problem and minimal work experience, or a 50 year old housewife who worked for 15 year back in the 1970’s and 80’s but has not worked at all in the last 10 years.
Up until last year, I rarely took SSI cases because Social Security would not withhold attorney’s fees on past due benefits. Unfortunately, when did take SSI cases, we would win, and the claimant would get a lump sum check, but would not pay me the 25% owed. As I got busier, I made the decision not to take SSI cases because they were not worth the risk.
Last year, Social Security finally corrected this glitch in the payment process and now they do issue direct payments to attorneys. However, I am still very careful about taking SSI cases because of the offsets involved.
As noted above, SSI claims are only payable to claimants with limited assets and income. Social Security will count as income something called “in kind” services, which can be room and board, welfare payments, or support from family. Also SSI will reduce your benefits if you are living in a household with a spouse or family member who works. That is why the 50 year old married housewife who lives with her employed husband may qualify medically, but will not recover any benefits because of the “deeming” of household income.
Obviously, SSI claimants have to live somewhere and they need funds for food and transportation as well. Therefore, in many cases there is an offset of benefits. Since SSI benefits are set by law and the maximum monthly SSI benefit (for 2008) is $637, it doesn’t take too much in kind support or deeming to reduce that benefit down to nothing. As a matter of business, I just can’t take on cases where I work for 2 to 3 years, appear at a hearing and expend hours of my time and paralegal time, only to end up with $400 or $500 or, in some cases, nothing.
With that background stated, let me address Elana’s question, which is:
I have a gentleman that lives with daughter and pays $500.00 for rent which he reported to SS. His daughter was asked to complete a form which asked the market value of room. She put $1,000.00 market rent. Now SSI benefits were reduced by the value of the $500.00 as income to the man. How can he correct this. I thought of obtaining an appraisal by a Real Estate Agent of the rental market value of the room. If less than $1,000.00 submit this document to SS along with the request for reconsideration. Do you think this would work? Do you have any other suggestions to try to correct the market value of the room? I appreciate your input. Thank you.
Here is my response: In this situation, the claimant is dealing with an offset of his benefits. Based on the information that the claimant’s daughter provided, she is “giving” her father $500 of value in the form of room and board. Social Security is reducing his benefit by that in kind support. Assuming that the father is getting the maximum $637 from SSI, the $500 reduction leaves him with only $137 per month to live on.
Now, the father and daughter need to argue to Social Security that the actual market value of the father’s room is something less than $500.
I think that Elana is on the right track regarding what to do. I would gather documentation from local real estate professionals. This could take the form of a notarized statement, or documentation of comperable rental units in the area.
The father needs to look carefully at the documentation he has received from SSI. I believe that when SSI computes an offset they provide written notice. He needs to see if that written notice provides for any appeal rights or deadlines.
In any case, I would contact the local SSI office and ask to speak to a supervisor to discuss correcting this error. Hopefully SSI will be cooperative. If not, you may need to file for reconsideration of the deduction – my only question is whether the father has missed any applicable deadlines to do so.
Jonathan Ginsberg represents Social Security disability claimants in Georgia. In practice for over 29 years, Jonathan publishes a widely known disability blog, a podcast and several disability web sites. In 2004, Jonathan published a "how to" book about Social Security disability called the Disability Answer Guide. Jonathan lives with his wife and 2 children in Atlanta.