Trustees of special needs trusts generally have wide discretion in determining whether to distribute funds to trust beneficiaries. But if the person with disabilities receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI), careful precautions should be taken before any trust funds are used to pay for housing costs.
For the year 2018, federal guidelines set the maximum monthly SSI benefit at $750 for individuals, $1,125 for eligible individuals with an eligible spouse, and $376 for an “essential person,” such as a child. Certain states add a supplement on top of the federal maximum.
The most critical factor in determining whether SSI recipients are eligible for the maximum benefit is their housing arrangement.
People living alone who pay their full rental expenses, including utilities, are eligible for the maximum monthly SSI benefit, assuming they would otherwise be eligible for the maximum. Likewise, where the SSI recipient lives with another person or persons but pays their proportionate share of the rent, the recipient is eligible for the maximum SSI benefit.
However, where a third party pays the rent—be it a parent or a special needs trust—the Social Security Administration (SSA) will cut the maximum federal SSI benefit by one-third, plus $20. For example, if a person receives $750 from SSI, but his special needs trust covers his monthly rental expenses, his benefit will be reduced to $520.
Spouses of SSI beneficiaries and parents of minor children who are SSI beneficiaries are not considered third parties under the applicable SSA rules, and thus shelter payments by them will have no bearing on the SSI recipient’s monthly benefit. However, SSA income rules apply to parents of minor children and spouses and would likely disqualify a person from SSI for that reason.
The rules are identical for other types of housing arrangements, such as where instead of a special needs trust or other third party paying for rent, it covers the SSI recipient’s monthly mortgage payments, co-op fees or, homeowner fees. The same rules apply for monthly utilities payments, such as electricity, gas or water expenses.
Generally, people who are temporarily institutionalized, such as in a hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility, are not eligible for SSI, with some exceptions. A permanent address, however, is not a requirement for continued SSI eligibility. SSI benefits will generally continue where the person is homeless or living in a shelter.
Finally, for SSI recipients who travel, third parties may pay for hotel and food expenses during travel without causing a reduction in the recipient’s benefit.
Payments from special needs trusts can affect a beneficiary's eligibility for Section 8 housing assistance as well. For more information on distributions from special needs trusts and how they will affect a beneficiary’s eligibility for SSI and other government benefits, please contact us.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program that helps people with disabilities and very low incomes pay for food and shelter. SSI is often confused with Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). One of the main differences between the two programs is that SSDI is available to people with disabilities no matter how much money they earn or have, while SSI places very strict limits on a recipient's income and assets. However, in most states, an SSI beneficiary also qualifies for Medicaid health coverage, which can be an extremely valuable benefit.
Once an SSI applicant has shown that she is disabled, she must also prove that she meets the program’s rules for income and assets. As far as assets are concerned, to be eligible for SSI, an applicant can have no more than $2,000 in assets ($3,000 for a couple), a figure that has not changed since 1989. If the applicant can use or liquidate an asset to pay for food or shelter, the asset will probably count as a "resource" against this limit. A resource would include any funds held in the applicant's bank accounts, retirement accounts, or in cash. The $2,000 resource limit does not disappear once a person qualifies for SSI. If an SSI beneficiary ends a month with more than $2,000 in her name, she will lose her benefits in the following month.
However, not all assets count towards the $2,000 resource limit. The major exclusions are:
The Social Security Administration currently lists 44 resource exclusions in all. Your special needs planner can advise you on which assets you own may be excluded from counting towards the $2,000 limit. The planner can also discuss with you setting up a special needs trust to protect an SSI beneficiary's assets while allowing her to maintain SSI eligibility. To learn more, contact us today.