A COVID-19-related benefit designed to lend support to Americans during an economic crisis has come at a cost to some Social Security benefit recipients.
Earlier this year, the Social Security Administration began suspending disability payments for some recipients of Supplemental Security Income. The reason? The stimulus benefits raised their bank account balances above the resource limit required for eligibility.
SSI is a need-based benefit for adults and children who are blind or have another disability. To qualify, an applicant can have no more than $2,000 in countable resources or $3,000 for a couple. If a recipient’s countable resources total more than the limit, benefits can be suspended or terminated.
The stimulus payments were technically distributed as tax credits — not income. Federal law excludes tax credits from being counted toward the resource limit of any government-funded program, including SSI, Medicaid, housing supplements and more. Still, some recipients experienced a lapse in benefits after the Social Security Administration became aware that their bank balance was above the resource limit.
Stacy Cloyd, an advocate with the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, told Huffington Post that the SSA should have investigated these situations before terminating or suspending benefits.
However, she acknowledged that because of the size of the agency, mistakes can occur. In addition the SSA, like most employers, experienced staffing shortages and service interruptions because of COVID-19, and Social Security field offices only recently reopened to the public.
A Social Security spokesman agreed that the stimulus payments shouldn’t have halted benefits and that other factors could affect a recipient’s situation.
What if my SSI benefits were affected?
If your benefits were affected because of a stimulus payment or other COVID-19-related tax credit, you should contact the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. We recommend visiting your nearest field office in person.
Be sure to have your bank records ready to submit as proof of your complaint. You’ll likely need several months’ worth to demonstrate that stimulus payments were what pushed your balance over the resource limit.
If your benefits aren’t restored after contacting Social Security, it might be necessary to seek legal representation.
Should the resource limit be updated?
The interruption of SSI benefits because of COVID-19 payments has shined a spotlight on the amount of the resource limit, which many advocates say is archaic and should be raised or eliminated.
The current limits — again, $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple — were set in 1989. Obviously, that $2,000 or $3,000 doesn’t go nearly as far in 2021. Some groups suggest indexing the resource limit to inflation. That is, as inflation rises, so would the resource limit. Others propose eliminating it altogether, saying that it makes it difficult for SSI recipients to build a rainy-day fund.
Raising the limit would require action by Congress. Several legislators have called for an overhaul to the resource limit as well as the maximum monthly benefit, the income limit, and the “in-kind support and maintenance” guidelines, which govern assistance beneficiaries might receive from loved ones or others.
Social Security claimant’ representatives, including our staff at Joyce & Bary Law, will certainly be watching as these proposals are debated. Watch our blog and social media channels for the latest benefits news.