This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Marriage and SSI Benefits

Kitty's boyfriend recently asked us for Kitty's hand in marriage (sweet, right?). We said yes, but immediately afterward, I started worrying about what this means for Kitty's SSI benefits. 

Without her SSI, she won't have Medicaid. Without Medicaid, she won't be able to afford medications and doctor appointments (even with great insurance, co-pays are ~$100-150/mo).  Historically, she has never been able to maintain a full-time job long enough to be eligible for benefits for herself and in fact is currently unemployed. Her boyfriend cannot afford their apartment without her SSI benefits paying half the rent and his job doesn't provide health insurance. 

They can't afford to get married.

Talking to her about this was awkward. As far as I know, he hasn't asked her yet (I'm guessing it will be at Christmas) but I wanted her to be thinking about it before getting caught up in the excitement of a wedding. Ugh! I have to be "dream killer" once again.

By , Attorney

For SSI (disability benefits for low-income disabled people who did not pay enough into the Social Security system for SSDI), eligibility for benefits is never terminated simply by marriage. SSI benefits are available to unmarried and married disabled people alike. SSI eligibility is dependent on meeting the definition of disability and financial income and resource limits.

When a disabled person gets married (and lives with his or her new spouse), the problem is that the SSA will count some of the new husband or wife’s income as available to the disabled spouse. This is called “deeming income,” and the nondisabled spouse’s income that counts as available to the disabled spouse is called “deemed income.” 

If the nondisabled spouse makes a good or even fair income, the disabled spouse will likely lose his or her SSI benefits.

Deemed Income 
If the nondisabled spouse earns more than $375 per month in "countable income" (in 2018), the nondisabled spouse’s income will be deemed. The SSA has a very complicated formula for deeming spousal income. 

In a nutshell, if the spouses’ combined countable income (after certain sizeable deductions) is more than $1,125 per month (in 2018), the disabled spouse will be ineligible for SSI. 
{Doing the math: In 2018, if the nondisabled spouse works full-time making more than $9/hr then the disabled person will be ineligible for SSI! 

Determining Deemed Income
To estimate how much of your husband or wife’s income will be deemed to you, you can follow these guidelines.

{Be aware that "earned income" refers to "gross income" which is the amount earned before taxes and deductions and such, not the actual paycheck amount.}

First, deduct living expenses of $375 for each child from your spouse’s income. {Yay! N/A far.}

Then add your spouse’s income to any income you have. Do not include income from a spouse's IRA or company pension.

Then you are allowed to take certain deductions to give you your countable income for SSI, just as you would if you weren't married. Generally, for earned income, you are allowed to subtract $85 and then cut the remainder in half to come up with your countable earned income. You then add that to any unearned income.

What’s left after you've made these deductions is the spousal income that is deemed to you. You then subtract this amount from the SSI income limit for a couple (as if you were both disabled), not for an individual. The income limit (and monthly benefit rate) for a couple is $1,125 in 2018.

What remains, if anything, will be your monthly benefit. If the remainder is zero or less, you aren’t eligible for SSI.

If the remainder is more than the maximum federal SSI rate for an individual, $750, then you will receive only $750. 

Examples of Spousal Income Deeming
Here are a few examples to give you an idea of whether your husband or wife's income might make you ineligible for SSI.

Spouse’s salary $15,600 per year, no children
Your husband makes $1,300 per month by working and has no other income, and you have no other income and no children. About $607 per month of your husband’s income will be deemed to you [$1,300-$85]/2). You would be eligible for SSI, but you would only get about $518 per month, less than the federal maximum benefit of $750.

Spouse’s salary $30,000 per year, no children
Say your wife makes $2,500 per month at her job and has no other income, and you have no other income and no children. You have been approved for SSI. About $1,208 per month of your wife’s income will be deemed to you ([$2,500-$85]/2). Subtracting that amount from the couple’s SSI rate of $1,125 leaves you with nothing. You would not be eligible for SSI because of your wife’s income.

Spouse’s salary $30,000 per year, two children
Your wife makes $2,500 per month at her job and has no other income. You have no other income but you have two children (without an income of their own). About $833 of your wife's income will be deemed to you ([$2,500-$375-$375-$85]/2). Subtracting this amount from the couple’s maximum SSI payment of $1,125 would give you about $292 in SSI benefits.

Spouse’s salary $15,600 per year, two children
Your husband makes $1,300 per month through work, and you have two minor children living with you. You don't have any income of your own. Only about $233 of your husband’s income will be deemed to you. Subtracting this amount from the couple’s maximum SSI payment of $1,125 would give you about $892 in SSI, in theory. However, you can never get more than the $750 federal maximum for SSI (unless there is a state supplement), so your monthly payment would be $750. You can see here that because of your children, your husband’s income isn’t actually deemed to you at all.

Note that these are rough calculations for the purpose of illustration; the SSA's formula can get a bit more complicated, particularly if you also have earned income or you or your spouse also has unearned income, or any impairment-related work expenses. In addition, the calculations change in states that add on a supplementary payment to SSI. 

Both you and spouse receiving SSI
If both you and your fiancé (or fiancée) are receiving SSI benefits, the amount you receive will be reduced after marriage to match the couple's SSI monthly benefit amount – that is, assuming you and your spouse are still eligible for benefits. When both spouses are disabled, they must both meet the financial eligibility requirements for a couple. Their income is counted together, without using the deeming formula. If they make under the required amount, they would get the couples rate for SSI ($1,125 in 2018).

Call the SSA at (800) 772-1213 for help determining whether your fiancé or fianceé's deemed income is likely to make you ineligible for SSI.

Parent's SSDI and Marriage

Adults Disabled Before Age 22
An adult disabled before age 22 may be eligible for "child's benefits" if a parent is deceased or starts receiving retirement or disability benefits. We consider this a "child's" benefit because it is paid on a parent's Social Security earnings record.

The "adult child"—including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild, grandchild, or stepgrandchild—must be unmarried, age 18 or older, and have a disability that started before age 22.

Children who became disabled prior to the age of twenty-two are eligible to continue to draw SSDI benefits based on their parent’s earnings record. This is usually a higher amount than SSI (your child will only receive whichever is higher). So if either parent is retired or on SSDI look into this!

If you receive SSDI benefits under an eligible parent's record, getting married will cause your benefits to be terminated. 

This also applies to individuals who receive SSDI on the record of a deceased ex-spouse who remarry before age 50 if disabled, and before age 60 if not disabled

How We Handled It - 
Kitty was more focused on the fun part of planning a wedding than the marriage, so I convinced her to have a commitment ceremony instead of a legal marriage. She could still wear a wedding dress and have her fantasy Alice in Wonderland wedding- on a budget of course

Our state allows common-law marriages so I'll have to remind her to be very careful in how she presents herself.

More on SSI:
Getting SSI for Your Adult Child 

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