Research and Analysis by Richard Balkus
Simplifying the Supplemental Security Income Program: Options for Eliminating the Counting of In-kind Support and Maintenance
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program's policies for both living arrangements and in-kind support and maintenance (ISM) are intended to direct program benefits toward persons with the least income and support, but they are considered cumbersome to administer and, in some cases, poorly targeted. Benefit restructuring would simplify the SSI program by replacing ISM-related benefit reductions with benefit reductions for recipients living with another adult. This article presents a microsimulation analysis of two benefit restructuring options, showing that the distributional outcomes under both options are inconsistent with a basic rationale of the SSI program.
Supplemental Security Income SSI is a federally administered, means-tested program that provides monthly payments to blind, disabled, or aged persons. This policy brief summarizes efforts since 2000 to simplify the SSI program through policy changes affecting the reporting of income and resources. The Social Security Protection Act (SSPA) of 2004 has provisions that simplify the treatment of infrequent and irregular income, interest and dividend income, income earned by a student, one-time income in an initial month of eligibility, military pay, and exclusion of certain income from countable resources. Final regulations published in 2005 contain simplifications in the definition of income to exclude clothing, household goods and personal effects, and automobiles from countable resources. This brief explains those changes and describes other options that have been considered.
As a means-tested program, the Supplemental Security Income program considers a recipient's income from wages and other sources when determining eligibility and the monthly benefit amount. This study examines annual earnings for a sample of Supplemental Security Income recipients and, in the case of child recipients, their spouses and parents to evaluate the feasibility of using average annual wages in place of monthly wages when determining benefit amounts. The data show substantial variation in earnings from one year to the next. The results do not point to any clear distinctions in wage patterns among recipients or ineligible spouses and parents that would make any one group a better candidate for estimating and verifying wages on an annual basis.
In determining the benefit amount for a child, the Supplemental Security Income program excludes one-third of child support payments from countable income. Legislation reauthorizing the 1996 welfare reform law contains provisions that would encourage states to allow children receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to keep more of the child support paid by an absent parent. These potential changes provide impetus to revisit the way the SSI program treats child support.
The Supplemental Security Income program serves as an income source of last resort for elderly or disabled individuals. This analysis identifies how marital status affects benefit rates and the counting of income and resources in determining eligibility.