Am I eligible for SSI if I am in a domestic partnership and my partner makes a lot of money?

I received an inquiry at my San Francisco office from a potential client who is interested in applying for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)  My potential client is poor but his partner makes a lot of money and supports him.  (I will call my potential client, “Jim.”)   Jim and his partner are registered domestic partners in the State of California.

I was not concerned about the medical evidence when I received this call.  What I first wondered was whether Jim was financially eligible.  In order to be eligible for SSI, an individual must have a low income and few assets.  Specifically, an individual cannot have more than $2,000 in resources.  When an individual is married, the resources of his spouse are deemed to be his.  A married couple may have up to $3,000 in resources and still be eligible for SSI.

The only good feature about the Defense of Marriage Act, (“DOMA”), is that it actually helps in a case like this in an odd way.  DOMA states that the federal government recognizes marriage as between a man and a woman.  Since the Social Security Administration is a federal agency, they only recognize this definition of a “married” couple.  Homosexual couples are not considered married and thus the deeming provisions do not apply.  Jim will be treated as a single individual even though he is in a domestic partnership.  Although I want DOMA to be declared unconstitutional, for Jim ‘s purpose the current law is helpful.   Because Jim is not married, the Social Security Administration does not deem his partner’s income to him.  So although he and his partner are living like a married couple, the fact that their marriage is not recognized makes Jim eligible for SSI.

Even though Jim is eligible to apply, he most likely will not receive very much.   If Jim is approved for SSI, the value of food and housing that he receives from his partner, may reduce his overall benefit amount.

How much can I earn and keep my SSI?

At lesat once a week I receive an inquiry from someone wondering if they will lose their SSI if their SSI if they work a few hours. The answer is that Social Security does not look at the number of hours you work but rather how much you earn. Essentially you cannot earn more than $1000.00 a month if you wish to keep your SSI. If you are blind, the amount is $1640.00. I have posted a Fact Sheet for 2011published by Social Security which contains all of the numbers for 2011.

If you think you would like to try working again but do not want to lose your SSI, Social Secuirty has a program called Ticket to Work which can help you try and re-enter the work force without losing your benefits during your attempt.

May a student on SSI receive a scholarship and remain on SSI?

students2I recently received a question from a student attending a San Francisco bay area university asking whether a receipt of a scholarship would prevent him from collecting SSI.  The answer is “no,”  as long as the scholarship is used (or set aside) for educational expenses to be used within nine months from receipt.    For more information on other items that are not counted as resources, have a look at my colleague, Tomasz Stasiuk’s blog post today on, “Do I qualify financially for SSI?”

While focusing on students,  it is also important to be aware that a disabled or blind student under the age of 22 who is regularly attending school, college, or vocational training may have limited earnings that are not counted against ongoing SSI benefits.  In 2009, a student may earn up to $1640 per month and no more than $6,600 in the year.   For more information, you may look at Social Security’s fact sheet, “SSI Spotlight on Student Earned Income Exclusion 2009 edition.”