By Bethany K. Laurence, Attorney
Hi: I was just approved for disability benefits in California, but when I get my check for disability back pay, I'd like to take the money and move home where I grew up, in Texas. Will I lose my benefits if I take the money and move?
The answer to your question depends on whether you're receiving SSDI or SSI payments.
For disability recipients who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments, moving to a new state won't affect your benefits at all. Just be sure to call your local Security office to give them your new address, so that you keep receiving important correspondence from Social Security and your disability checks (if you don't have direct deposit). Better yet, you can change your address online at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/change-of-address.html.
For disability recipients who receive Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), moving to a new state can change the amount of their monthly benefit check and could possibly even affect their financial eligibility for SSI benefits.
SSI monthly payment. While SSI is a federal benefit, most states add on a small amount of money (called a state supplementary payment) to the federal SSI payment each month. If your old state paid a supplement but your new state doesn't (or it pays a smaller supplement), your SSI check could be for a smaller amount. Vice versa, if your new state pays a supplement but your old state didn't, you can look forward to a bigger check.
SSI income limit. In addition, Social Security has a complicated formula for determining how much income you can have per month and still be eligible for SSI. If your state has no supplementary payment, the SSI income limit is $771 per month (in 2019). (However, not all income is counted, so you can actually earn more income than that and still receive SSI. For more information, see our article on countable income for SSI.)
In states that make the extra monthly payment to SSI recipients, the monthly income limit is usually higher than the federal limit of $771, because the state supplement is added on (assuming you're eligible for the supplement). So if you're moving from a state with a supplement to a state without a supplement, you may be allowed to earn less income in your new state. (For more information, see our article on SSI income limits and state supplements.)
Also keep in mind that your benefit amount may go up or down if your living situation changes. For example, if you are moving in with family members who will be paying for your food and/or shelter, your SSI benefits will be reduced. Their contributions will be considered "in-kind support and maintenance." For this reason, you're required to report all changes in your living situation to Social Security. You must report changes in address and living situation within 10 days of the month after which the change occurred.
If you are concerned about your SSI payment going down—or losing your SSI benefit altogether—call your local Social Security office. A claims representative should be able to help calculate your new SSI payment and the income limit in the state you're planning to move to so that you can compare them to the payment and income limit in your current state. You'll need to call the Social Security office to change your address anyway, because for SSI, you can't change your address online.
If your disability claim is still pending, moving out of state can delay your case and even affect the outcome. For more information, see our article on moving before getting approved for Social Security disability.