About SSI payments

There have been seven dazzling blog posts about SSI, and here comes another one. Today’s topic is what to be aware of as the months go by: how to get the maximum monthly benefit, how to handle the backpayments, and what kind of bookkeeping is needed.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has rules that affect how much they will pay out to an individual each month. If a recipient is thought to be getting financial help from another source, or is working, the SSI payment will be lower than for someone who is not employed and has no other financial support. For young adults whose families have been supporting them up to now, the SSA seems to assume the support is ongoing. This means the first monthly payment may be the minimum amount possible.  In our son’s case, the first few checks were the minimum, in the $600 range.

By the way, this amount included about $150 from the State of California, intended for using toward food. The State adds to the recipient’s SSI check instead of having him or her also sign up for CalFresh (= Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, sometimes known as food stamps). In other words, once you are on SSI in California, you can’t apply for CalFresh. The arrangement may be different in other states.

Here’s how we got the maximum benefit for Nathan. When I was getting set up as a representative payee, an SSA worker told me to contact the local SSA office in three months and state that Nathan was now fully supporting himself with the SSI payments. (Prior to SSI being awarded, my husband and I had been supporting Nathan financially 100%.) Between the monthly checks and the first backpayment installment, SSI was indeed covering all of Nathan’s expenses. By remembering to call SSA and make that statement, and by having Nathan not live at home, he was then eligible to receive the maximum monthly payment, which in California is in the $800 range. It took a few months after the phone call for the increase to kick in.

I’m grateful the worker at SSA shared that tidbit – I may not have known about it otherwise. I didn’t see it covered in any documentation we received. If no one at SSA has told you about this somewhat baffling rule, it would be worth inquiring. The process may be less straightforward if the young adult is living with you, but my understanding is that recipients living with parents can also receive the maximum benefit.** See the update at the bottom of the page

In addition to monthly payments, Nathan received 3 installments of backpayments, 6 months apart. In his case, the amounts were around $2500 for the first two and over $4500 for the last one. The SSA suggests using the backpayments for debts, to buy big items like a vehicle or furniture, to help pay for education, to pay for medical needs, and other life-enhancing things. We ended up using the vast majority of Nathan’s backpayment for his twice-weekly office visits to a highly-recommended psychologist who was out-of-network for our insurance (and who didn’t take Medicaid. The ins and outs of health insurance coverage while collecting SSI will be the topic of a later post.)

Would you like to hear another baffling rule? The SSA says the recipient is not eligible to receive SSI in any month that the value of his/her “resources” is over $2000. (The figure is $3000 for a couple.) An associated rule is that the recipient (or the representative payee) has nine months after receiving the last backpayment to spend the bank balance down under $2000. And, if the recipient has tangible items the SSA considers “resources”, the value of those items may count toward the $2000. (That figure of $2000 hasn’t changed since 1989.)

Here is the official version of the rules from SSA. Here is a matter-of-fact assessment of how the rules impact the individual’s SSI accounting, especially regarding backpayments. Here is an editorial on the situation.

This is wacky, right? The recipient wouldn’t be receiving big chunks of backpayment money from SSA if SSA hadn’t (erroneously) denied the application from the get-go. But instead of being able to save that money for future needs, you have to spend it in the now, even if there aren’t big expenses in the now. This rule is SSA’s way of guarding against giving money to people who don’t “need” it. But how wealthy is someone who only has $2001, and no income?

Anyway, as representative payee, I got a call from Nathan’s caseworker at SSA about 8 1/2 months after the last backpayment. He inquired about the bank balance. At the time, Nathan’s balance was still above $2000. The caseworker made it clear that the bank balance had to be below $2000 from the end of the month on.

Now, since the monthly SSI payments come a few days before the end of the month, and Nathan’s landlord doesn’t cash the rent checks until a few days after the first of the month, I wondered if it was OK for the bank balance to be over $2000 just for those few days between the incoming SSI payment and the cashing of the rent check. The answer was No. So we did some fancy (but legitimate) shuffling of funds to make the numbers come out all right.

Now let’s talk about how much time and effort is needed for keeping records of the income and expenses. You can relax – it really doesn’t take much. But you do need to make sure it gets done.

You’ll need to report to SSA anytime there is a significant change in the recipient’s circumstances, such as moving, getting married/divorced, being incarcerated, working, or dying. They give you a list of what needs to be reported.

The handbook for representative payees includes a blank worksheet you can make copies of to help with record keeping. There are rows for months, and columns for: amount of benefits received; expenses for food and housing, combined; and how much was spent on everything else. There’s also a place to record any money that was saved. As long as you keep a checkbook register or something like that, it will only take a few minutes to fill out the worksheet.

Once a year, around the time the payments first started, the representative payee has to submit Form SSA-623 to report where the money went. The form comes in the mail, but you have the option of completing it online. The SSA will have already filled out what they say they have paid out in the year. If all is well, the summary figures from the worksheet can get plugged in to the form, and they’ll all add up. I’ve filled out this form twice, and faced minor glitches each time. The main thing is to be honest about how the money was spent in supporting the recipient (and not funding something else, like your vacation to the Bahamas). You’ll have about a month to submit the completed form.

I mentioned the SSA caseworker earlier.  It is his or her job to help us with any questions or problems, and to ensure the money is being spent properly. At the appeal hearing, we were told Nathan’s case would be reviewed before an SSA ODAR judge in 18 months. My understanding is, the system is too overwhelmed for a review to happen that quickly, although it will supposedly occur at some point. In the meantime, caseworkers contact the representative payees by phone about once a year and ask a series of scripted questions regarding how the money is being used, and if there have been any changes in circumstances. Answering the questions falsely is perjury. You should get a letter a few days after the call summarizing what was said, and if something doesn’t look right, you have a chance to straighten it out.

Did you find all of this information a little confusing? Like most things in life, and especially like most government programs, the SSI system is not perfect, but it is better than no system at all. To summarize: see about maximizing the monthly benefit; be aware of the rules regarding backpayments and maximum allowable resources; and expect to spend less than 10 hours a year on accounting, unless something gets even goofier than “normal”.

Updates  8/7/13

I want to share a couple pieces of information that came from the responses to this blog post (many thanks to everyone who took the time to comment!)

1. Lois W. filled us in on how a family can obtain the maximum benefit for a relative living at home.


When I inquired about the amount of my son’s SSI Benefits, I was told by a Benefits Specialist that in order for my son to get the maximum amount, I would have to charge him rent.

The rental fee had to be in the same range as I would charge anyone else living in my home and/or the same range with one bedroom apts:  bathroom, kitchen and common living area listed in our neighborhood and remember often rental fees do change

I was advise not to go the route of having the monthly expenses divided between other family members, but to let SSA know that he would be paying a flat rate that covered all the amenities enjoyed by each family member.

Then I was told, that I could not just say “I am charging him”, but I actually had to do it and be able to proof it.  I was his Rep. Payee, so each month, I had to write myself a check (memo:________rent.  Then I would write him a receipt.  Since shelter is the first thing a Rep. Payee usually pays, this would be the first check I would write each month.

So, along with cancelled checks, receipts, and bank records, I had proof that he was actually paying rent.

Now what a parent does with the “rent” money is their business.

2. Secondly, here’s a link to a letter written by Jeff Rosen, chair of the National Council on Disability to President Obama, requesting the asset limit be raised from $2,000 to $10,000: http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2013/04182013  The letter gives the details about what is in the petition that is referred to in one of the comments left on this post. Also, note that the $2,000 figure has been unchanged since 1989, not the 1970’s as I’d first mis-remembered.



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About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. My profession involves maps and geography. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

7 responses to “About SSI payments”

  1. Stephanie Kwiatkowski says :

    Good day, thanks for blogging about this. It’s a big issue that many of us don’t discuss.
    I work for a nonprofit that supports adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We have struggled with Social Security many times over the years. You mentioned Nathan’s landlord not cashing checks until after the 1st. One idea/option is to do a cashier’s check and get a receipt from the landlord immediately so if it gets lost the fault is not Nathan’s. Also, if Nathan has the ability to manager small amounts of money and understands the concept of gift/cash cards he can purchase cards for eating and shopping. Also, if he is interested in saving for travel or a large purchase many businesses and travel agencies are willing to work with you on “layaway” or making payments, especially if you are honest and explain your situation. Finally, if he has any medical or dental services not covered by his insurance, talk with the medical office to find out if you can start a prepaid account there. Another option is a “Special Need Trust”. I am not a supporter of these because it seems to be a scam to take money from vulnerable people, but I know others that have been satisfied with the services provided.


  2. janet565 says :

    Thanks for sharing some great ideas for all of us, Stephanie! In our situation, the rent checks have never been a problem (Nathan’s landlord is a godsend) – the only issue was the SSA $2000 rule. I withdraw money for Nathan’s groceries every month and give him some of it every week – he does all his own shopping, and has learned to look for sales, etc. He also shops for other items with the small amounts he earns doing chores. Your advice on layaway and prepaid accounts is well-taken. Lastly, I am planning to blog in the future about special needs trusts; we are looking into it for our family. I’ll be curious to hear more about your perspective on them!


  3. malika bourne (@NoNoncentsNanna) says :

    Whether people think they NEED to know this info, they do.Life can turn on a dime, then who knows what to do?
    My ex got a brain infection.
    My boomerang son now has MS. Wading through mazes of paperwork, keeping a roof over head and food in the tummy…I am pooped!

    This is such valuable information, I am writing a review/ referral on my blog, under my I am NOt reinventing the wheel so I will pass you on to Janet’s blog.


  4. Robin Hansen says :

    Please consider reading and signing this petition. The national Council on Disability has urged Prex Obama to inclrease the 2K amount to 10K. This would make it so much easier for our kids on SSI.


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