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Food Will No Longer Count as Income for SSI Recipients

Food Will No Longer Count as Income for SSI Recipients

March 27, 2024

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced a major change regarding how it calculates In-Kind Support and Maintenance (ISM) for recipients of Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. Beginning later this year, the SSA will no longer count “free food” as income.

The final rule, which appeared in the Federal Register on March 27, 2024, also clarifies the SSA’s definition of “income.” The new rule will go into effect on September 30, 2024.

What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

This federal public assistance program offers financial support to people who are living on limited resources. To qualify for SSI, individuals must have income and assets that are under a certain monthly threshold that the SSA specifies. A person with a disability seeking SSI must also have an impairment that falls under the SSA’s strict definition of disability.

Eligible SSI recipients receive payments, up to a maximum of $943/mo (2024), which are meant primarily to be used for basic needs for food and shelter, but the payments can be used for anything for the individual's benefit. However, as a welfare payment, SSI is reduced if the recipient has "income". Currently, Unearned Income reduces SSI $1 for $1 after a $20 exemption.

Food and SSI Benefits

The SSA has traditionally included “free food” in its definition of income for SSI recipients (called In-Kind Support and Maintenance). That is, it has seen “income” as “anything individuals receive in case or in-kind that they can use to meet their food and shelter needs.”

For example, if an SSI recipient lives in a household where someone else buys the groceries, the individual on SSI would have to report these “free food” expenses to the SSA. As a result, the SSA then decreases their monthly payout $1 for $1 of the value of the food, up to maximum reduction of 1/3 of the maximum SSI amount.

The New Rule on In-Kind Support and Maintenance

After an initial proposal in early 2023, the SSA rule states in its final rule that it will now “no longer consider food expenses in [its] ISM calculations.” Instead, the rule explains, it will consider only shelter expenses. Shelter expenses refer to the following:

  • Room
  • Rent
  • Mortgage payments
  • Real property taxes
  • Heating fuel
  • Gas
  • Electricity
  • Water
  • Sewerage
  • Garbage collection services

“We historically included in-kind receipt of food in our ISM calculations because food assistance helps people meet their basic needs,” the final rule states. “However, the complexities of our current food ISM policies outweigh their utility.”

The change in policy will streamline the way that the SSA calculates ISM while making it easier for SSI recipients to adhere to the program rules. With this rule change, it adds, the SSA seeks to foster equity by not penalizing an “already vulnerable population when they receive food assistance.” The policy also will now treat food assistance from public sources and private sources in the same way.

Read the final rule in full.