Does SSI or Disability Help Pay Rent, Utilities, or Heating Costs?

While Social Security disability doesn’t offer specific aid for rent or utilities, you can use your benefit payments for whatever you choose, including rent.

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) operates two programs that provide income for disabled people. Both programs—Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security disability insurance (SSDI)will pay you monthly cash benefits if you're disabled and you meet certain other eligibility criteria.

Because of the SSI and SSDI income caps (more on this below), it can be tough to get by without help. Here's what you need to know about getting rent or utility assistance if you receive SSDI or SSI disability benefits.

Getting Help With Rent or Housing If You're Disabled

The SSI and SSDI programs aren't set up to help directly pay for expenses like rent or utilities. But you don't have to use your monthly disability payments only for expenses related to your disability (like doctor's visits or prescription medication). You can use the money you get from Social Security to pay for whatever you need—including paying for your utilities and rent. SSI doesn't have limits on how much you can spend for rent.

The only exception to this rule is for lump-sum SSI payments to children with disabilities, which must be used to pay for the child's education, medical expenses, or other specific costs of care. (Learn more about the special rules for children's lump-sum SSI payments.)

Where SSI and SSDI Recipients Can Go for Rent and Housing Assistance

Although Social Security doesn't offer housing or rent assistance for SSI or SSDI recipients, other help is available. If you need housing assistance, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds programs that can help eligible Social Security disability recipients. In addition to public housing, if your income is very low, you might qualify for HUD Housing Choice (Section 8) vouchers.

Additional financial assistance is available for homeowners and renters through federal, state, and local programs because of the national coronavirus crisis. You can find a program near you on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website and learn more about the following programs:

  • Emergency Rental Assistance Fund
  • Emergency Assistance for Rural Housing/Rural Rental Assistance
  • Homeowner Assistance Fund, or
  • Housing Assistance and Supportive Services Programs for Native Americans.

Getting help from one of these programs won't affect your SSI eligibility or reduce your monthly benefit amount, as some other financial assistance can.

Learn more about federal resources available for SSI and SSDI recipients who need housing or rent assistance.

Can Getting Help With Rent Affect Your Disability Benefits?

If you're getting SSI disability and you're getting help with your housing expenses, it could affect your monthly benefits. If you're receiving free room and board, saying by living with a friend or relative, Social Security will consider it "in-kind support and maintenance" (ISM) and will reduce the amount of your monthly SSI benefit (by about one-third).

But not all help with housing expenses is considered ISM. Social Security won't reduce your monthly benefit if either of the following apply to you:

  • You live with others but pay your share of the food and housing expenses.
  • You live with your spouse and minor children (and no one else), and no one outside the household pays for your food and shelter.

(Receiving ISM doesn't affect SSDI benefits.)

Utility Assistance for Disabled Persons

For help with utility bills, the federal Administration for Children and Families provides the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program is funded by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and administered through local offices.

LIHEAP helps pay for gas and electric utilities (heating and cooling costs) through bill payment assistance and energy crisis aid to families in need. LIHEAP can also help with heating system repairs (or replacement) and offers free weatherization services to make your home more energy efficient, including

  • attic insulation
  • weather stripping around doors and windows
  • minor housing repairs, and
  • related energy conservation measures.

To apply for LIHEAP, go to LIHEAP.org to find the assistance program in your state and/or search for the LIHEAP program in your county.

In addition, many companies, such as utility companies and water companies, will work with people who have limited income to lower their monthly costs or set up payment plans. Some also offer utility assistance programs with disability discounts. You can contact these companies directly and explain your situation to see if your payments can be reduced.

How to Get Help With Other Expenses

Social Security can take many months to approve your SSDI or SSI benefits. That can create financial hardship for some. There are some resources available if you're waiting for Social Security to approve your disability benefits. Learn more about the financial help you might be able to receive.

Since SSI eligibility is based partly on having limited income and resources, if you're receiving SSI, it's possible that you'll also meet the limited income requirements for other federal, state, or local assistance programs.

Depending on the criteria for these programs, you are probably eligible for programs like Medicaid, TANF, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—formerly called "food stamps"). You should contact the agencies responsible for administering these programs in your area and see if you are eligible.

Many local religious organizations and nonprofit groups also provide rent and food assistance to disabled people. You can find nonprofit organizations in your area at GreatNonprofits.org.

SSI and SSDI Income Basics

To get SSI, you must have limited income and resources. To qualify for SSDI, you must have worked and paid Social Security tax (FICA) long enough (and you must be unable to earn above a certain amount now).

Both disability programs have limits on how much income you can earn. The SSI income limit is $841 per month for individuals and $1,261 for couples, though the SSA only counts about half the income you earn from work. If you're getting SSDI, you can't earn more than $1,350 per month from work (the "SGA" amount for 2022), but there's no limit to the amount of income your spouse can earn.

Because of these limits, it's important to find rental assistance that doesn't count as income. Using public housing, housing vouchers, or emergency rental assistance won't jeopardize your disability benefits. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a helpful database of rental assistance programs in your area.

Updated September 26, 2022

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