After all the work, time, and energy put into a claim is completed, a Notice of Award is the finish line. It’s the notice that says monthly income is on its way. For many, it can mean the difference between eviction and keeping a roof over their head. But a Notice of Award is often just the beginning of a different fight for some.
For Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security makes adjustments based on the income or assets that are available. That includes wages, cash gifts, vehicles, pensions, and the most common issue our clients have on this type of benefits: rental deductions.
If housing is provided at little to know cost (such as living in a parent or family member), rental obligations are paid for by a third party, or an unfair portion of rent is owed (more on that later) Social Security can deduct from monthly payments by up to a third. Social Security calls this In-Kind Support and Maintenance (ISM), or a shelter deduction.
Many things are excluded from this adjustment to benefits, such as night-by-night shelters, Section 8 Housing, and 501(c)3 non-profit organizations. A full list of exclusions can be found here. Clients can also become eligible for energy or propane assistance, which is also excluded from ISM.
So what happens when Social Security incorrectly applied their own rules and applies a deduction where one should be absent?
The Financial Department reviews the SSI Notices of Award for the potential to appeal. Sometimes, the unfortunate reality is that Social Security was correct in applying the deduction. However, Social Security can and has made the incorrect offset.
Best case scenario, Social Security just needs a written copy of a viable loan agreement and a detailed description of what that entails can be found here. Broken down, this agreement has to meet 5 parts:
Enforceable under State law
In effect at time ISM is provided
Acknowledgement of an obligation to repay
Plan or schedule for repayment
The payment plan must be feasible.
Let's break this down.
1 - Enforceable under State Law:
While one should always check with their specific state, this does include verbal agreements. How does one prove a verbal agreement? By putting it in writing.
2- In effect at the time ISM is provided:
What this means is the start date for past due rent. If rent is due starting January 2020, that is the date that rental obligations start, regardless of the date found disabled.
3 - Acknowledgement of an obligation to repay
This is the trickiest and most important portion of ISM. This agreement to repay must be unconditional. If a rental agreement is dependent on Social Security, the rental agreement will be denied by Social Security and the ISM will stand. Going back to work, loans taken out against an inheritance or selling a vehicle are all options for unconditional repayment. Social Security will verify this information with the landlord. That includes friends, family, and significant others or partners/spouses. Any indication that it is “if you get your Social Security” or “when you are found disabled” and the ISM will stand.
4 - Plan or schedule for repayment:
This is the deadline for payments to start, whether it's based on the date the rental agreement is made or birthday, there should be a date in which the living arrangement will come up for review or first payment is due.
5 - The payment plan must be feasible:
Feasibility to Social Security means that if there is no change to benefits, can repayment be made in a timely manner. The rental agreement must show that the individual can repay the loan using his or her own resources and income. When Social Security determines feasibility, they consider the total amount due, individual's resources and income (including monthly payments) and individual's monthly living expenses. If ongoing rent is more than your total monthly income, if paying rent leaves an individual with no funds for other necessities like food or to pay utilities, or if the total amount due cannot be paid back in a timely manner, ISM will continue to be in effect.
Feeling overwhelmed? That’s okay. While we can write it on our clients behalf, The Financial Team has several outlines and examples we can provide to help write your rental agreement.
And if Social Security continues to issue the ISM for past due benefits, The Financial Team will help get the rental agreement to an attorney at this office for an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to make that decision. More often than not, cases end like Darcy’s. In Darcy’s case the ALJ agreed that the field office incorrectly attributed the value of the motor-home she was living in. Instead of a full deduction of $265 per month, the deduction should have been applied at $50, awarding an additional $215 per month for 31 months (or about $6,600 total). While a total reversal of ISM is often rare, cases like Darcy’s are common and we are well equipped to walk our clients through this confusing process.
Social Security . “POMS: SI 00835.001 - Introduction to Living Arrangements and In-Kind Support and Maintenance.” Program Operations Manual System (POMS), Social Security Administration , 13 May 2011, secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0500835001.
Social Security . “POMS: SI 00835.482 - Loans of In-Kind Support and Maintenance.” Program Operations Manual System (POMS), Social Security Administration , 29 Mar. 2018, secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0500835482.
Social Security . Understanding SSI -- SSI Spotlight on Homelessness, Social Security Administration , 2021, www.ssa.gov/ssi/spotlights/spot-one-third-reduction.htm.
Social Security . “Understanding Supplemental Security Income (SSI)-- Living Arrangements.” Understanding SSI - Living Arrangements, Social Security Administration , 2021, www.ssa.gov/ssi/text-living-ussi.htm.
Social Security. “Understanding SSI.” SSI Spotlight on Living Arrangements, Social Security Administration , 2021, www.ssa.gov/ssi/spotlights/spot-living-arrangements.htm.