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Food In-Kind Support Will No Longer Affect SSI Benefits

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two elderly women prepare healthy food together

Recently, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued a new rule: starting September 30, 2024 food support is no longer considered in kind support, and will not effect supplemental security income payouts. This change is potentially huge. It simultaneously provides new flexibility AND simplifies record-keeping and reporting.

What is Supplemental Security Income?

Supplemental Security Income (also known as SSI) is a needs-based government benefits program. The program provides monthly payments to people with disabilities and adults over the age of 65. For many, SSI benefits help pay for basic needs like rent, food, clothing and medicine. And, the amount of money an individual gets depends on the person’s income, living situation, the things that they own and other factors. You can apply for benefits through the Social Security Administration website.

Eligibility for Supplemental Security Income

To be eligible for SSI, you must meet a few requirements. The simple version: First, you must either be disabled or over the age of 65. Second, you must earn less than $1,971 per month from your employment. But, if you are married or are a parent applying for your child, that amount may be different. It’s also noteworthy that income from sources such as disability benefits, unemployment benefits and pensions can also limit your SSI eligibility. Third, you must have under $2,000 (or $3,000 for a married couple) in available resources. Those numbers increase by $2,000 for parents applying for their child.

Note that there are lots of qualifications to those basic rules, and we have over-simplified them here. But that is the structure of eligibility from which we can work to explain the new provisions.

If you are applying for SSI based on a disability, there are a few additional requirements. Your disability must qualify as one that makes you eligible for SSI. The disability must affect your ability to work for a year or more, result in death, or severely limit daily activities.

Even once you qualify for SSI, you must report your earnings to maintain your eligibility. You must report your monthly gross wages, if you start or stop working, increases or decreases in wages, work expenses related to your disability, among other things.

In-kind support and maintenance (ISM)

You also must report any “in-kind support and maintenance” you may receive. That generally includes support provided by friends and family without charge. For these purposes, “support” includes shelter and food. Once, years ago, it also included clothing. Happily, that category was eliminated.

For example, if you live in a friend’s house while receiving SSI benefits, that in-kind support may affect your benefits payout. Social Security considers this kind of support as unearned income and it affects your eligibility and may also reduce benefit amounts.

In-kind support and maintenance is often very difficult to understand. There are specific items of shelter included, for instance. Payment of your property taxes results in an income categorization. But purchase of new appliances does not. Payment for most utilities can affect benefits or eligibility. But payment of cable or internet bills will not. And “food” has been its own problem. Groceries count, and so do restaurant bills. But not always.

Changes to SSI

Currently, the SSA also counts food as in-kind support that needs to be reported when you apply for SSI. Thanks to a new rule that will take effect September 30, 2024, the Social Security Administration will no longer include food in these ISM calculations. This new policy removes a critical barrier for SSI eligibility. It will also make reporting much less burdensome for those applying for benefits. Now, benefit recipients will not have to keep track of food their friends and family are providing them.

What does this mean for SSI recipients? A lot. Family members can take them out to dinner, or buy them groceries, without any concerns about the effect on SSI. And SSI recipients who have special needs trusts can have food added to the list of items the trust could pay for.

Remember, though: this change is not effective yet. The proposed rule has to become final, which is scheduled to occur at the end of September. In the meantime, keep records and keep food off the list — for most purposes, anyway.

Effect on other programs

Other benefit programs, like Medicaid, SNAP, housing support and TANF, have their own eligibility rules. Some of them (but not all of them) borrow the SSI eligibility rules. Where SSI rules apply, the elimination of “food” from ISM will be a double blessing.

The most important of those is general Medicaid (not, at least in Arizona, long-term care Medicaid, or ALTCS). In Arizona, as in most states, beneficiaries who qualify for SSI automatically receive Medicaid benefits. Effectively, that means that most Medicaid recipients in Arizona will benefit from the SSI change, come September.


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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.