The Social Security Administration is moving forward with a major change to the way it calculates monthly Supplemental Security Income benefits for those with disabilities.

The agency said that starting this fall it will no longer factor food when determining what’s known as “in-kind support and maintenance.”

Under current rules, SSI benefits can be reduced — in many cases by about a third — if someone else routinely provides meals or groceries to a beneficiary. Now, that’s set to change.

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“A vital part of our mission is helping people access crucial benefits, including SSI,” said Martin O’Malley, commissioner of Social Security. “Simplifying our policies is a common-sense solution that reduces the burden on the public and agency staff and helps promote equity by removing barriers to accessing payments.”

In a final rule published late last month, the Social Security Administration said it will stop considering food expenses in calculations of in-kind support and maintenance as of Sept. 30.

The agency will continue to factor shelter expenses meaning that SSI benefits can be docked if a beneficiary does not contribute to rent, mortgage or utility costs for their residence.

The change will limit the amount of information that SSI beneficiaries must report, ensure that rules are easier for everyone to understand and reduce variability in SSI payments from one month to the next, officials said. In addition, Social Security expects to see administrative savings since the agency will no longer have to spend time monitoring food provided in-kind.

Even with the update, however, Social Security said that it will continue to ask beneficiaries who live in another person’s household if someone else in the home pays for or provides them with all of their meals.

Disability advocates welcomed the new rule.

“In-kind support and maintenance calculations are often ridiculous and cruel, causing SSI recipients to lose benefits over things like sleeping on someone’s couch or getting help paying for groceries,” said Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “No one should lose needed benefits because of things like this. By exempting food from ISM, the Social Security Administration will make it easier for people receiving SSI to get help with food and nutrition. This especially impacts people who live with friends and family, as many autistic people receiving SSI do.”

The update could have broad implications, with the Social Security Administration saying that it reduced the benefits of 793,000 recipients as of January 2022 because they received help with food or shelter.

The rule change is one of “several updates” that Social Security said are in the works for SSI regulations, all aimed at helping people receiving and applying for benefits under the program.

About 7.5 million Americans receive SSI each month, with a maximum federal benefit of $943 for individuals and $1,415 for couples.

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