March 29, 2023

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides a lifeline of cash assistance at a maximum amount of $914 per month for millions of people who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or over, and have low incomes and limited resources.

However, woefully outdated and punitive financial rules mean SSI participants  struggle to put food on the table. One such rule, the in-kind support and maintenance (ISM) rule, means that recipients can see their SSI checks cut by one-third (to $609 or less a month) if they get help from friends or family with paying rent or buying groceries. Not surprisingly, food insecurity rates are most prevalent among SSI recipients compared to recipients of other disability assistance programs.

Anti-hunger advocates can weigh in before Monday, April 17, to oppose one harmful aspect of the current ISM rule, as well as continue to advocate for broader improvements to SSI.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has published a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to update the outdated and draconian ISM rule. Under the proposed rule, SSI applicants and recipients would no longer need to provide information about meals or groceries from friends or family for the SSA to consider in ISM calculations.

In justifying the need for the rule, the SSA noted that “[by] removing food from the ISM calculation, we are removing obstacles to obtaining food that could help ease the burden of rising food costs for some recipients.” The SSA has issued this NPRM in line with the priority included in the Biden-Harris National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.

This proposed rule is a step in the right direction. An estimated 75,000 SSI recipients would see an increase — averaging $131 — in their monthly SSI payments if the rule were adopted. There also would be a broader benefit of eased administrative burdens. This simplification of a complex rule would reduce the reporting obligations of millions of applicants and recipients of SSI, free up the Social Security Administration’s staff time, and streamline benefits processing.

Take Action! Tell the Social Security Administration that you support this SSI financial rule change. Urge them to move quickly to make more meaningful updates in the coming months.

Keep reading for template comments that you can adapt. Submit your comment online. Comments are due by Monday April 17, 2023.

Further SSI Improvements Are Needed

While the proposed rule is a welcomed step to improve SSI, much more action is needed to ensure that recipients of SSI do not struggle with hunger. The SSA can act immediately to issue regulations that exclude all people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or those with very high housing costs, from ISM reporting altogether.

Ultimately, Congressional action is needed to address the alarming intersections between people receiving SSI and food insecurity. Congress should act by eliminating ISM altogether and updating other financial rules like the long outdated asset limit and the marriage penalty. Use the templates below to help submit your comments by April 17.

 Comments Templates for SSA’s Proposed Regulation for Anti-Hunger Stakeholders

[Insert a few sentences about your organization and applicable work with older adults and disabled people.]

[Org name] supports the proposed regulation to eliminate food from in-kind support and maintenance (ISM) calculations. Food insecurity rates are most prevalent among Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients compared to recipients of other disability assistance programs.

This small improvement to SSI financial rules would streamline administrative efficiencies and signal that food assistance from friends and family would not result in SSI benefit reduction.

People should not be punished if they get help from family or friends with buying groceries.

I urge the Social Security Administration to move quickly to make more meaningful changes to SSI financial rules like ISM. While a lifesaving benefit, SSI includes rules that are terribly outdated .I support efforts to make SSI’s financial rules work better for disabled people and older adults.

  • In addition, Justice in Aging has a comment portal that allows people to submit comments automatically.