Food No Longer to Be Considered In-Kind Support and Maintenance for SSI Benefits

Food No Longer to Be Considered In-Kind Support and Maintenance for SSI Benefits Image

In March 2024, the Social Security Administration issued a new rule that favors disabled individuals applying for or receiving Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Under the new rule, starting September 30, 2024, food will no longer be considered in-kind support and maintenance (“ISM”) in ISM calculations.

This is a major improvement for SSI recipients: food given to them will no longer count in ISM, reporting and recordkeeping will be simplified, and trustees of special needs trusts will be permitted to disburse trust funds to buy food for trust beneficiaries who receive SSI.

The Social Security Administration is Working on SSI

The rule change is part of a wide-ranging effort by the Social Security Administration to change how it handles nuances of the SSI program. In April 2024, other rule changes modified rent subsidies and how Social Security factors in support from other public assistance programs, both outside the scope of this article.

Changes making it easier to remain eligible for SSI have an added benefit: less risk of losing your Medicaid. This is because, in Delaware and many states, the eligibility requirements for SSI and Medicaid are the same. If you are eligible for SSI, you are automatically eligible for Medicaid.

For purpose of simplicity in this article, we focus only on SSI and the coming change regarding food.

What is SSI?

Let’s start with what SSI is not. SSI is not Social Security Disability Insurance or Disabled Adult Child Social Security benefits, which do not depend on an individual’s income and resources.

SSI does depend on an individual’s resources and income. SSI is a means-based government benefits program. SSI provides monthly payments to disabled individuals, or adults 65 and over, subject to means tests.

SSI benefits are intended to pay for basic needs including shelter, food, clothing, and medicine.

SSI Eligibility

In general terms, to be eligible for SSI, you must:

(1) be disabled (as defined by the Social Security Administration) or 65 or over,

(2) earn less than $1,971 per month, and

(3) have under $2,000 (or $3,000 for a married couple) in available resources.

Many qualifications to these basic rules exist, making SSI eligibility complex.

SSI Reporting

Once you qualify for SSI, you must report your earnings (including wages) to maintain eligibility.

In-Kind Support and Maintenance

You must also report any “in-kind support and maintenance” (“ISM”) you receive. ISM includes support that family and friends give you. “Support” in this context includes shelter and food. For example, if you are living in another’s home for free or reduced rent, that shelter is considered ISM as unearned income and affects your eligibility and may reduce your SSI benefits.

ISM can be difficult to understand. The guiding principle is the government expects you to use your SSI to pay in full for your own shelter and food expenses: if someone else pays any part of shelter or food for you, your SSI should be reduced (says the government).

That’s why if someone pays your rent, mortgage, water, sewer, electricity, or property taxes – that affects your eligibility and payment amount. It is “shelter” and you’re supposed to use your SSI to pay for that yourself.

But if someone buys you a new stove, or pays your cable or internet or cell phone, those payments are not a problem because they are not considered ISM.


Food always has been a problem. If someone takes you out to dinner or buys your groceries, that is ISM – affecting your SSI eligibility, reducing your payment, and requiring reporting.

New Rule on Food

Under the new Rule to take effect on September 30, 2024, the Social Security Administration will no longer include food as ISM. That removes a barrier to eligibility and simplifies recordkeeping and reporting.

The new Rule means family members can take you out to dinner, or buy you groceries. The new Rule also means the trustee of your special needs trust can disburse trust funds to pay for your food – a big change.

One question will remain on the SSI application about receipt of food for the narrow purpose of determining the reduction formula (value of the one third reduction rule or presumptive maximum value rule).

According to the Social Security Administration blog posted March 27, 2024 at

“Under the final rule, beginning September 30, 2024, the agency will no longer include food in ISM calculations. The new policy removes a critical barrier for SSI eligibility due to an applicant’s or recipient’s receipt of informal food assistance from friends, family, and community networks of support. The new policy further helps in several important ways: the change is easier to understand and use by applicants, recipients, and agency employees; applicants and recipients have less information to report about food assistance received from family and friends, removing a significant source of burden; reducing month-to-month variability in payment amounts will improve payment accuracy; and the agency will see administrative savings because less time will be spent administering food ISM.”

Not Effective Yet

Remember, the change is not effective until September 30, 2024 when the proposed rule becomes final. In the meantime, follow existing SSI rules regarding food, including recordkeeping and reporting.