When SSI benefits might be terminated

The archives of this blog contain many posts regarding how to apply for, and hopefully win, SSI benefits for someone with mental health challenges. If you have successfully navigated the SSI application process and the benefits are arriving every month, at some point you may wonder: Might the Social Security Administration decide that the recipient no longer qualifies for benefits? If so, what could I do about it?

The quick answers are: yes, the SSA can pull the plug, but it only happens in a small percentage of cases. If it does happen, there is an appeals process which involves (no surprises here) filling out forms, attending hearings, and probably hiring an attorney.

Cessation of benefits may result from the periodic reviews the SSA conducts to determine whether each SSI recipient is still eligible to receive benefits. The SSA will let you know by mail that a review is coming up. You may get a letter requesting that you come in to the local office for the review. In our case, we’ve received letters specifying a time for a phone interview.  (This was an annual event for the first few years, but now more than a year has gone by since the last review. I don’t know whether budget cuts and the federal government shutdown in October are responsible for the lag, or whether the length of time between reviews typically stretches out anyway.) 

During these reviews, there may be questions about changes in the severity of the disability. There will definitely be questions about any changes in living situation, income, resources, and whether the individual has assets totaling more than $2000 (the upper limit allowed). An improvement in either the individual’s level of disability or financial situation could lead to a cessation of benefits.

But don’t worry too much. This study from 2003, found on the SSA website, discusses the reasons that people exit the SSI program.  It provides a few reassuring statistics. The report states that only 10% to 13% of SSI recipients ever have their benefits terminated. And the chart below shows that if benefits are terminated, the reasons are usually financial in nature. Very seldom are recipients found to be “no longer disabled”.

Chart 42.Percentage distribution of terminations for blind and disabled adults (aged 18–64), by reason, 1988–2003

Area chart linked to data in table format.

From this study we can see that, historically, the odds for cessation of SSI benefits are pretty small, and the best way to avoid the risk is to make sure we are following the rules about income and assets.

One common occurrence that leads to a financial change and a cessation of SSI benefits is if some well-meaning relative leaves the individual an inheritance. Suddenly, the individual has more than $2000 in assets, which is a big no-no under current rules.

This scenario is one reason to seriously consider setting up what is called a special needs trust, where the inheritance could be kept without disrupting SSI benefits. Our family has taken only the beginning steps towards setting up a special needs trust for Nathan; I’ll be blogging more about it as we proceed.

In closing, if you are in the unfortunate 10% to 13% who receives a notice about SSI benefits being terminated, you may want to follow these links to the Disability Secrets website. The first link describes more about why benefits might be terminated, and the second talks about how to appeal that decision:




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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....

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