I 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.”
This past week was a long week. It seemed long perhaps because I made two trips to two different Social Security field offices, one in San Francisco and one in Walnut Creek. This was two too many. The offices were over-crowded and I experienced long waits. I try to avoid going to the field office but certified mail and fax did not seem to work, at least in the first case. They do not answer their phone so I had to appear in person. In the second case, my clients retained me because their phone calls and submission of information did not seem to be working. The second case is particularly egregious, in my opinion.
My client is a child originally from Afghanistan. She entered the United States as a refugee in 2003 and has some very serious debilitating medical issues. She is now a lawful permanent resident of the United States and has applied for her certificate of naturalization because her mother recently became a citizen of the United States. She has not received her certificate yet. When she applied for SSI, she was told that she could not receive it because of her legal status. The Social Security worker told her that she needed to be a citizen of the United States. At the time I heard this story, I was assisting my client’s mother with her naturalization case and I told my client’s mother that the Social Security office worker was wrong; her daughter was entitled to receive SSI for a period of 7 years because she originally had entered as a refugee. Indeed, in some circumstances, refugees may now be able to obtain SSI for 10 years if they can show they have a naturalization application pending.
My client and her mother went back to Social Security and submitted a copy of my client’s green card at least on three occasions. Still, the worker was insistent that my client submit a copy of her naturalization certificate. They were completely frustrated. I accompanied them yesterday. When we met with the claims representative, she began to tell us the same story that my clients told me – that story being that since my client entered after 1996, she was not entitled to SSI. I told her that law allows refugees to have SSI for 7 years after admission and that my client was admitted as a refugee less than 7 years ago. The claims representative then understood and asked for proof of the refugee status and we submitted it.
It seemed so simple and yet it was not. I found it egrigous because as I learned yesterday, this was the second application my client has filed. She filed one previously and Social Security denied it claiming she did not have legal status to receive SSI. (I will have to check if we can reopen it.) I do not know what the source of the problem was. I do not know if the Social Security worker failed to ask sufficient questions or lacked the training to ask. Refugee status is not that common but still I would hope that the Social Security worker would inquire of every applicant whether or not he or she entered as a refugee. I know that my clients do not know the law and only submitted to Social Security what was asked of them.
I am optimistic now that my client’s application will be approved and will look forward to seeing that approval letter.
As you may know, California is in a serious budget crisis. In an article in the L.A. Times on January 17, the paper reported the state controller, John Chiang’s, announcement that his office will suspend 3.7 billion in payments owed to Californians starting February 1, because without a budget, the state has no money to pay its bills. The question I received was whether the California supplemental payment would be cut as of February 1, 2009. Currently it is not clear whether this will happen. What is expected to happen is that taxpayer rebates will be frozen and student loans will not be funded. No mention has been made yet of the State’s SSI supplemental portion.
People dependent on SSI cannot rest easy. It appears that even if we somehow overcome the February 1 deadline. the State may reduce the supplement. One of the governor’s budget proposals is that the supplement be reduced from $233.00 a month to $156.00 a month. This is quite a reduction given the cost of living in California. For more details about the budget, you may visit the website for the Governor’s proposed budget.