Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Source, Form, and Amount of In-Kind Support and Maintenance Received by Supplemental Security Income Applicants and Recipients

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Source, Form, and Amount of In-Kind Support and Maintenance Received by Supplemental Security Income Applicants and Recipients

Article excerpt


In January 1974, Congress created the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which provides income of last resort to aged, blind, and disabled persons to help them meet their basic food, clothing, and shelter needs. During December 2012, about 8.3 million persons received SSI payments (SSA 2014a). Because SSI is means tested, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must count all income and support received by an individual, including "in-kind support and maintenance" (ISM), to determine his or her monthly payment amount. SSA defines ISM as unearned income received by SSI applicants and recipients (1) in the form of food and/or shelter from anyone living within or outside their households. To determine the monetary value of ISM, SSA requires applicants and recipients to answer detailed questions about their household members and expenses: how they divide household expenses and what help they get from others within or outside of their households. About 9 percent of SSI recipients have their benefit rates reduced because of ISM during any given year (SSA 2013, Table 8).

ISM policies have several equity, incentive, and administrative issues. Many experts in this field believe that certain ISM policies place some SSI recipients at an economic advantage, while other ISM policies may discourage families from assisting low-income relatives on SSI because such contributions can result in dollar-for-dollar reductions in recipient payment amounts (SSA 2000b; Balkus and others 2009). Those authors and many others have identified ISM policy as one of the leading policies that make the SSI program difficult, time-consuming, and costly to administer (Kennedy 1983; GAO 2002b; SSA 2000a, 2012b). In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and SSA's Office of the Inspector General have repeatedly identified ISM policy as a leading cause of SSI payment errors (GAO 2002a, 2002b, 2012; SSA 2000a, 2000b, 2012a, 2012b; SSAB 1999, 5). Subsequently, SSA has made ISM simplification a leading priority.

Until recently, limited information has existed to inform ISM policy and its simplification. Available ISM publications have left the following four perennial ISM questions unanswered:

* How many SSI applicants and recipients alleged receiving ISM from within and/or outside of their households?

* What proportion of SSI recipients alleged receiving ISM in the form of food and/or shelter?

* What proportion of SSI recipients alleged obtaining ISM exceeding the amount deducted from their federal benefit rate?

* To what extent did the total ISM alleged vary by ISM source and form, as well as by age group of SSI recipients?

The existing literature does not quantify several facets of ISM because of the absence of detailed ISM research data.

For over 20 years, SSA has used the Modernized Supplemental Security Income Claims System (MSSICS) to administer the SSI program. I used administrative data from the MSSICS to quantify the source, form, and amount of ISM received by SSI recipients. This article provides basic statistics about the ISM that SSI recipients acquire from others. More importantly, it answers the four noted questions so policy and decision makers can make data-driven decisions as they strive to simplify ISM policy and minimize SSI payment errors. Subsequent articles will describe the household composition of recipients who receive ISM and may explore ISM policy options for simplifying the SSI program.

Program Background

The SSI program provides a basic monthly national income guarantee, called the federal benefit rate (FBR), to children and adults with disabilities (including blind persons) as well as the aged (persons 65 or older).

SSI Program Eligibility

To be eligible for SSI, all applicants must meet income and resource requirements. (2) In addition to the federal SSI payment, some states provide supplemental benefits to their residents (SSA 2013). …

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