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Income Restrictions and SSI Disability Eligibility

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program for people with disabilities, blind people, and seniors, but only for people with incomes below a certain amount. The income limit for states that do not pay grants to SSI recipients (see more below) is the federal SSI benefit rate. 

What is the federal benefit rate? 

The federal benefit rate (FBR) is the greatest amount that the federal government will pay to individuals and couples who receive SSI benefits. In 2021, this amount is $794 per month for individuals and $1,191 for married couples. When the SSI approves individuals or couples, they can receive the maximum amount from the federal government each month. Many states provide “state subsidies,” which increase monthly SSI payments and increase the state’s SSI income limit. 

How does the income limit work? 

As mentioned earlier, the FBR is the monthly income limit for SSI, as follows: 

  • If applicable, people with an income that exceeds the FBR (plus state subsidies, if applicable) would not be financially eligible for SSI benefits. 
  • People who have no income would receive the full SSI (FBR amount). 
  • People with income less than the FBR but greater than 0 are financially eligible for SSI, but their monthly SSI payment may be reduced according to the amount of income they earn. 

You can apply for SSI benefits with the help of a legal professional. The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not consider all income to determine whether you are eligible for SSI and, if so, what your monthly benefit would be. The SSA only considers “calculated income”. As a result, you can earn a higher income than the federal benefit rate and still receive SSI payments.

What income is “countable” and which is not? 

Disability Eligibility

The SSA does not include all types of income when determining an SSI recipient’s benefit amount. For example, the SSA excludes food stamp income, medical expenses or utility bills paid directly by friends or family, and half of your salary in its calculation. 

The SSA will calculate most of your earned and unearned income and even some income you do not earn personally. For example, for SSI recipients who live with a spouse who does not qualify for SSI, the SSA may count part of the spouse’s income as the SSI recipient’s own income. This is called “consideration” and can also occur between a child who receives SSI benefits and their parents. 

The rules regarding consideration are complex, and not all income of the spouse (or parents) will be counted either. Another common situation in which your SSI payment may be reduced is if you get free food or shelter from a friend or relative. In this case, SSA can reduce a recipient’s SSI payments by up to one-third. It is called “income in kind.”

But keep in mind that loans, including food and housing loans, do not count as income and will not lower your SSI payments. If you agree in writing to reimburse your friends or family for the value of your food or shelter, the SSA may not reduce your monthly benefits. Both parties must sign this contract, and you would need to send a copy to the Social Security Office.

Awareness plays a huge role in this process

It is essential to be aware of any changes to the SSA rules and regulations to maintain eligibility for disability claims. It is also important to understand the annual changes in income limits. The income limit usually increases every year with the increase in the cost of living, giving you more opportunities to earn or receive additional income without negatively affecting your eligibility for SSI benefits. 

To keep up with the SSA changes, consider periodically reviewing a few simple tasks to help you maintain your eligibility for benefits: 

  • Keep in contact with the SSA periodically to ensure you are still eligible and to provide up-to-date information on your condition. 
  • Arrange a sufficient number of doctor visits and follow up on your medications to confirm your disability. 
  • Notify the SSA of any major life changes, including the following: address, name, criminal activity, marriage, family members, and employment status.

Disability income limits in 2021

As long as your income is less than a certain amount and meets other SSA requirements, it is possible to receive Social Security benefits and earn income at the same time. As of 2021, while receiving SSDI benefits, the maximum amount a person can earn for non-blind disabled workers is $1,310. 

How to Keep Your SSDI Benefits Intact

If you are considering applying for disability benefits but are still working, or if you have been receiving benefits but are considering working part-time to help support your livelihood, you should not take any actions that could put your disability benefits at risk. 

Do you know someone who needs help applying for and receiving disability benefits? For help applying for a Social Security program, appealing a decision, or simply discussing all of your legal options, consider contacting an experienced attorney for Social Security disability benefits. We can help.