How In-Kind Income and Support Affects Your SSI Disability Payment

Social Security counts free food and shelter as in-kind income, which can affect your SSI disability payment.

By , Contributing Author
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In-kind income and support refers to free room and board, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) wants to know if you're getting it. Why does it matter? When you receive monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks from the government, any income you receive can reduce the amount of your payment. And the SSA counts things other than money as income.

What Is In-Kind Income?

In-kind income is something you get for free, according to the SSA. Free food and shelter are the main types of in-kind income that are unearned (not a result of employment). Social Security categorizes free room and board as "in-kind support and maintenance" (ISM). Other types of in kind income include goods given as gifts to you.

What Types of Income Affect Your SSI Payment?

SSI beneficiaries can have their monthly benefit payment reduced if they earn any other income, and income is defined as:

  • wages from working
  • pensions
  • SSDI benefits, and
  • in-kind income (including ISM).

If you receive SSI benefits and someone provides you with room and board that you don't pay for, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will reduce your monthly SSI payment to account for this in-kind support and maintenance, according to specific ISM rules. "Shelter" includes things like rent/mortgage payments, and property taxes, but doesn't include phone and cable bills, or any medical costs.

Are You Receiving In-Kind Support and Maintenance?

The SSA will not consider you to be receiving ISM if you:

  • live with other people and pay your share of the food and shelter expenses
  • live alone and pay for your own food and shelter, or
  • live only with your spouse and minor children, and nobody outside the household pays for your food and shelter (although a working spouse's income could potentially affect your SSI eligibility in other ways).

If the first situation applies—say you live with three roommates and pay a portion of the rent, utilities, and food costs—the SSA will examine the amount you pay for rent and food to determine if it is actually one-fourth of the monthly food and shelter costs. If the amount that you pay meets or exceeds one-fourth of the actual costs, you aren't receiving ISM. But if your monthly payments are less than one-fourth of the monthly expenses, the SSA will find that you're receiving ISM, and would reduce your SSI benefit.

There's one more exception: if you are given food or shelter as a loan and need to pay it back, it won't count as in-kind income and shouldn't affect your SSI payment. For details on the requirements for this exception, see our article on how loans of food and shelter affect SSI.

How Will Free Room and Board Lower Your SSI Payment?

The amount of your SSI payment is based upon the current "federal benefit rate" (FBR), a value established by the government each year. In 2020, the FBR is $841 for an individual and $1,261 for a couple. This is the maximum monthly amount that you can receive in SSI benefits (unless your state pays an extra supplemental payment).

If you're awarded SSI benefits and have no income, you will receive this amount each month—$841 or, if your spouse receives SSI too, $1,161. If you have any other income, including ISM, your monthly payment will be reduced. When calculating the value of your ISM and reducing your SSI payment, the SSA uses one of two rules.

One-Third Reduction Rule

The "one-third reduction rule" is applied if your situation meets both of the following conditions:

  • you lived in another person's household for the full calendar month, and
  • you received both shelter and food from others living in that household.

The one-third reduction rule simply means that your SSI payment will be reduced by one-third. Even if the fair market value of the food and shelter that you received for free exceeds this one-third of your SSI payment, your payment would still only be reduced by one-third. What this means is that people who receive SSI in 2022 who have no other income except for free room and board will receive $561 per month instead of $841.

Presumed Value Rule

If the one-third reduction rule doesn't apply to you (for example, if you lived in your own household but someone else paid your bills, or you lived in someone else's household but they didn't provide your food), the SSA will apply the "presumed value rule."

Under this rule, the value of the food and shelter that you receive is established as one-third of the federal benefit rate ($841) plus $20. But unlike the one-third reduction rule, if you believe the actual value of your ISM isn't equal to the presumed value, you can dispute the amount. You can show that the amount of ISM you receive is actually less by proving that:

  • the actual amount that another person pays for your food and shelter is less than the presumed value, or
  • the current market value of the ISM is lower than the presumed value.

Once the SSA determines the value of your ISM, that amount will be deducted from your monthly SSI payment.

Additional provisions can apply to children who receive SSI benefits as well as homeless adults and those residing in a medical institution.

What If You Have Other Unearned Income Plus Free Room and Board?

If you receive other money (besides from working), that income is subtracted after the one-third reduction or presumed value reduction. For example, José is a single person who receives SSI benefits. Using the one-third reduction rule, the SSA values this food and shelter at $280 per month (one-third of $841). José also receives $200 per month from a private pension and lives with his mother, who provides him with food and shelter that he doesn't pay for. The SSA won't count his first $20 of unearned income, so only $180 of the pension counts against him.

José's monthly SSI payment is $381 (the FBR minus his ISM and minus his income, or $841 - $280 - $180 = $381.)

Does Social Security Count Gifts as In-Kind Income?

Social Security will count some types of gifts against your SSI payment, including gifts of cash. But you're allowed to receive up to $60 in cash per calendar quarter without having it lower your SSI amount—but only if the cash gifts are infrequent or irregular.

Unlike room and board, cash gifts lower your SSI payment dollar for dollar. And any goods given as gifts to you are simply valued at their current market value and subtracted from your SSI payment like other income.

For more information on income rules and financial eligibility for SSI, see our article on SSI income limits.

Updated February 28, 2022

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