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    Social Security Administration Stops Punishing Americans Who Need Extra Help

    By Kristin Hitchcock,


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    Navigating the world of benefits programs can feel like trying to decipher a secret decoder ring. If you need a helping hand to make ends meet, you may be surprised to find out that getting help might actually stop you from getting help. (That's more than a bit confusing!)

    Yet, that's the exact situation many people with disabilities or limited resources found themselves in with Supplement Security Income (SSI). SSI provides a lifeline for many, offering monthly payments for basic needs like rent, food, and medicine. You can read our Social Security guide for more information on how this program works.

    For a while, if you lived in the wrong state and received help to pay for your rent, it could actually hurt your chances of getting SSI or even lead to decreased benefits.

    Thankfully, the Social Security Administration just took a big step toward fairness!

    The Nationwide Expansion The Social Security Administration manages the SSI program, though it technically isn't a part of social security.

    Here's the good news! The SSA has finally decided to ditch the location lottery for its rental subsidy policy. This means that starting September 30th, 2024, it won't matter where you live in the US.

    Renting below market rate (like getting an apartment at a discount or being grandfathered in at a lower rate after a rent increase) won't affect your chances of getting SSI or the amount of money you receive.

    That's a big deal because, previously, the SSA considered certain types of rental assistance as "income," which would affect your overall SSI benefit or even disqualify you completely! It wasn't a fair system, especially for people with limited resources.

    You can read the full rule change in the Federal Register: Expansion of the Rental Subsidy Policy for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Applicants and Recipients .

    Potential Impacts of the Expansion: Why Does it Matter? This SSI expansion will increase the number of potential recipients and the amount some SSI recipients receive.

    This may seem like a small rule change, but it can have a big impact on those who are receiving SSI (or want to receive SSI).

    Increased Eligibility

    This nationwide expansion of the rental subsidy program opens the door wider for people who may qualify for SSI benefits. Here's how it makes things easier:

    • Less Discouragement: Some people who qualify for SSI may not apply because they want help with their rent. Before, many folks had to choose between SSI and rent help. With rental assistance no longer a barrier, individuals needing help with both won't be discouraged from applying.
    • Reaching Out to a Wider Net: This change could be a game-changer for those who rely on help with rent from family or friends. Before, such informal support could have counted against them. With this rule change, individuals can access SSI without worrying about accepting money from their loved ones.
    • Focus on Real Need: Without the rental subsidy policy, the SSA can focus on what truly matters—a person's income and resource limitations. In this way, the program may reach those who need it most, regardless of whatever help they're receiving.

    Increased Benefit Amounts

    The new policy affects not only who qualifies for SSI but also how much money you can expect to receive! Therefore, those with SSI who benefit from rental assistance may see a bump in their monthly payments as the new rule is implemented.

    These SSI recipients will have their benefits recalculated. If you fall in this category, expect to see the change in October.

    Potential for Broader Societal Benefits

    When the most at-risk portion of the population is cared for better, it can benefit society. It creates a bit of a ripple effect:

    • Improved Health Outcomes: Financial security can also lead to better access to healthcare and a healthier lifestyle for SSI recipients. Let's admit it: healthy food and medications can be expensive! Even with health insurance, SSI provides extra help for those struggling to afford healthier choices.
    • Increased Participation: With basic needs met, individuals with disabilities are more likely to be able to participate in their communities. This can lead to increased economic activity and a stronger social fabric.
    • Reduced Strain on Social Services: By providing a safety net, SSI can prevent homelessness and reliance on other social services. This lowers the cost of caring for the disabled and frees up resources where needed most.

    What We Don't Know While we know the wording of the rule change, we still don't understand the full effects!

    While the potential impact is very broad, we still don't know much about this SSI rule change. We can make predictions all day, but the impact will take some time to fully understand.

    Exactly how many additional people might be eligible for SSI due to this rule change is a guessing game. The SSA estimates that the number of people will increase, but the real number isn't known - and won't be known for several months or years.

    Expanding the program also comes with a price tag. There will be more individuals receiving SSI, and the checks may increase. We don't know the actual price tag, though.

    These are just some of the things we'll be watching for as the new policy rolls out. However, one thing's certain: this change represents a significant step towards a fairer SSI program.

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