Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based program. U.S. residents with low income and limited assets may qualify for monthly benefits if they are blind, disabled or at least age 65. Income and assets include those of a spouse whether or not the spouse is SSI-eligible. As of December 2009, over 311,000 SSI recipients had ineligible spouses whose income could affect their SSI benefit.
SSI program eligibility rules assume married couples are mutually responsible for financial support. However, before the agency looks at the income of the ineligible spouse of an applicant, the agency computes what the applicant's benefit would be as an individual by deducting the applican'ts own income from the basic SSI benefit rate for an individual -- $674 effective in 2011. If the applicant's own income would not make her ineligible as an unmarried individual, the SSA then computes whether any SSI is due using the income of both couple members. Special computation rules apply to how much of the ineligible spouse's income can be "deemed” available in awarding SSI to an aged, blind or disabled spouse.
Excluded Types of Income
If another government agency such as the Veteran's Administration or state welfare agency uses the ineligible spouse's income to calculate a needs-based benefit, Social Security disregards the income. For example, if a husband’s wages are used to calculate the family’s neediness benefits from TANF – Temporary Assistance to Needy Families – the SSA cannot use the income again to reduce SSI benefits. If the ineligible spouse receives wages from a state’s In Home Support Service program for caring for her disabled spouse, the IHSS wages are not income for SSI purposes. The SSI rules also disregard any of the ineligible spouse's income garnished per court-ordered child support.
Allocations for Children
SSI rules for computing benefits recognize that some of the ineligible spouse's income may be necessary to support the couple’s children. Social Security deducts an allocation for each child either under age 18 or a full-time student under age 22. During 2011, the deduction for each child is $337. If there were three children in the home, Social Security would deduct $1,011 from the ineligible spouse's income when calculating income available for deeming.
Social Security combines the both couple member’s remaining income. It adds together their wages and creates a separate total of all nonwork income such as Social Security benefits, pensions or unemployment. The agency then subtracts standard monthly income exclusions from each income type. For earned income, the exclusion is $65 plus half the remainder. For nonwork income, the exclusion is $20 monthly. If the ineligible spouse’s gross wages are $1,000 after deducting any child exclusions, the standard earned income exclusion would reduce the countable wages to $467.50. If the couple had nonwork income such as unemployment of $250 monthly, the $20 general exclusion would reduce the countable amount to $230.00. Total countable income earned and nonearned is $697.50. Social Security deducts the countable income from the SSI benefit rate for a couple, currently $1,011 in 2011, leaving a monthly benefit of $313.50. If the couple’s only income were wages and there were no children, monthly gross wages of $2,107 would reduce SSI to zero.