A reader wrote in with this question: “If my daughter lives with me and she works, does that affect my SSI disability check?”
This is an important question. Why? Because in order to qualify for SSI, you must meet certain income requirements. In addition, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a wide definition of “income.” It can mean earned wages as well as what’s called “unearned income.” This can include things like money you receive from another person who lives with you.
The short answer to this reader’s question is that yes, her daughter’s income can affect her SSI disability check. That’s because it can be deemed a type of unearned, in-kind, or deemed income, according to the SSA.
How Does Unearned Income Affect SSI Disability?
Remember that while the SSA administers both Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), they are separate and distinct programs with different requirements. For instance, you don’t need to earn work credits or pay Social Security taxes to qualify for SSI. However, you do have to meet those requirements for SSDI benefits.
Rather, SSI is awarded to people with limited income and resources who are one or more of the following:
- Have a qualifying disability
- At least 65 years old
Unlike SSDI, SSI determines benefits based on your income and other assets.
What Qualifies as Income?
When you apply for SSI disability benefits, the SSA will ask about all income for your household. By this, they don’t just mean wages from a job. Instead, they also mean any in-kind, unearned, or deemed income.
Those might sound like confusing terms, but what it means is they want to know about any assets you own. They’ll also ask whether anyone else helps financially support you and your household. For example, this reader’s question about her daughter’s income might affect her SSI eligibility.
Other examples of income that might count against you for SSI disability may include:
- Benefits you receive from other programs (i.e., TANF)
- Interest on investments
- Court-ordered payments, like alimony or child support
Basically, you must report any kind of cash flow, whether it’s earned via a job or not.
The SSA will also ask about non-cash benefits and services you receive, whether from another agency or friends and family. These in-kind payments can include things like:
- Living in a relative’s or friend’s home rent-free
- Someone buying your groceries for you
- A charity paying your doctor’s or utility bills on a consistent basis
However, not all gifts will count against you during the decision process. Think about birthday gifts, for example, or a random meal a friend pays for while you’re together. Those likely won’t count. But consistent gifts or in-kind payments may count as part of your income during the SSI application and evaluation process.
All those various benefits, kindnesses, and wages factor into whether you qualify for SSI disability. Unless you’re a professional who understands the SSI application process and rules, it’s confusing. Part of this confusion is because there is no one standard for deciding who qualifies and who doesn’t. Instead, they determine each case on an individual basis.
What’s the Best Way to Successfully Apply for SSI Disability Benefits?
Applying for both SSI and SSDI can be frustrating and confusing. You can apply for SSI disability on your own if you know how to properly complete the required forms. But if the SSA denies your application, trying to appeal isn’t easy. In fact, it can take more than a year to appeal your SSI disability denial in court.
Should I Hire a SSI Disability Attorney?
An experienced attorney can quickly assess, sometimes with just a phone call, whether you might qualify for SSI disability. In fact, studies show applications from attorneys are 3x more likely to get benefits than people who apply without help.
Our attorneys can walk you through the process to see if you may qualify without charging anything up front. To learn more, get your free benefits evaluation here.
Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.