Maximizing Your Child’s SSI by Utilizing ABLE Accounts

Newsletter | Jan 20, 2017 | Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro, CELA

I see a large number of clients who have a child receiving SSI as a result of a disability. In many cases, the child is not receiving their full SSI check ($735 per month for the year 2017) as a result of in-kind support and maintenance provided to the child by the client. This reduction for in-kind support is premised on the idea that the purpose of SSI is to provide for a person’s basic need for food and shelter, and that if someone else is providing such food or shelter, then that individual does not need the full SSI benefit. The SSI benefit is accordingly reduced by the presumed maximum value, which equates to one-third of the full SSI benefit amount. A reduction of SSI due to in-kind support and maintenance is often the result of a parent’s desire not to charge their child rent, or the result of the SSI not being sufficient to cover the child’s share of the household’s food and shelter expenses. While the receipt of a full SSI check may not be important to parents while they are still able to care for their child, the benefit may become increasingly important as the parents start to age – when the parents start having health issues of their own and the child may be placed in a supportive living arrangement that is counting on contributions from the child’s SSI. As a result, we encourage families to correct the benefit reduction sooner, rather than later – thanks to ABLE Accounts, this problem has been much easier to resolve.

A person who had a disability prior to age 26 may now setup an ABLE Account, and anyone may contribute to such account; provided, however, that total contributions to the account may not exceed $14,000. The person with the disability may use the money for “qualified disability expenses,” such as housing and basic living expenses. The utilization of the ABLE Account funds for such purpose will not be considered in-kind support and maintenance. To demonstrate the value of these accounts, I am going to use two common examples:

Parents Did Not Charge Rent: Ron’s Case

Ron is a 19-year old with Down Syndrome who lives with his parents. Ron just started to receive SSI; but, because his parents do not charge him for food or shelter, he receives a 1/3 reduction of his full benefit amount due to in-kind support and maintenance. The monthly household food and shelter expenses total $2,175, and because Ron is one of three people living in the house, he is responsible for a total of $725. Because of the reduction in income, Ron is unable to start paying his parents his pro rata share of the household food and shelter expenses. An ABLE Account is established for the benefit of Ron, and Ron’s parents contribute $2,000 to the account. Ron will pay his parents his $725 share of rent (from a combination of his SSI check and his ABLE Account). The rent payments will be reported to the Social Security Administration, and the Social Security Administration will then increase Ron’s SSI check to the full $735. To continue to receive the full benefit amount, Ron must continue to pay his parents rent. (Bear in mind that earned and unearned income may also factor into Ron’s benefit amount, but this is for a later discussion). 

Household Expenses Too High: Jackie’s Case

Jackie is a 35-year old with Cerebral Palsy who lives with her sister. When Jackie moved in with her sister, her pro rata share of household expenses totaled $1,000 and the full SSI benefit was not sufficient to cover her pro rata share. As a result, Jackie received a 1/3 reduction in her benefit due to in-kind support and maintenance. Jackie established an ABLE Account and the Trustee of her Special Needs Trust distributed $5,000 to the account. Jackie can now pay her sister $1,000 to cover her pro rata share of the expenses (via SSI and her ABLE Account). The change in circumstances will be reported to the Social Security Administration who would then increase Jackie’s SSI check to the full $735 a month. From that point forward, Jackie’s Special Needs Trust will continue to distribute money into her ABLE Account so that she can continue to pay her pro rata share of household expenses and receive her full SSI check.

Ask Kit Kat – All About Skunks

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what’s the latest information about skunks, and what should you do if your pet has encountered a skunk?

Kit Kat:  Well, this can cause some problems you might not anticipate, though, generally, your pet’s encounter with a skunk can be quite harmless. Usually, the skunk gives some warning before employing its ultimate weapon—the spray. Initially, you may notice the telltale smell, but there may be other symptoms like drooling, sneezing, or vomiting. More severe symptoms can emerge a few days later like lethargy and pale gums. If the more severe symptoms appear, immediately take your pet to the vet to be checked. In most cases, the severer symptoms occur after a direct spray to the face.

Now, how to deal with cleaning your pet after a potent spray. Ordinary pet shampoo will not be strong enough. You will need to make your own mixture composed of 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda, and 1-2 tsps. of dishwashing liquid. Lather your pet well and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Then, thoroughly rinse with lots of water. If your pet has long hair, you may want to consider clipping them before shampooing, because a shorter coat will foster more effective results. There may be some bleaching of the fur with this procedure, but it is not harmful to them. Repeat as necessary.

To prevent your house/property from being attractive to skunks, there are several things you can do. First, if you store food in your garage/shed like bird seed or dry pet food, make sure it is in well-sealed containers. Second, make sure areas around decks are blocked, so they cannot make their home there. Third, keep exterior lights at night on or install motion-activated lights. Skunks do not like light. Fourth, discourage their nesting in your yard by sprinkling kitty litter in front of their den/hole or stuffing it with twigs and leaves. This will let them know, that they are not welcome.

Hopefully, with this knowledge, you will be well-equipped to handle your pet’s skunk encounter. If your pet is actually bitten, you should take your pet to a veterinarian right away. Skunks can carry rabies, and prompt medical attention could be crucial. (“Pets and Skunks: A Smelly Dilemma,” ASPCA Action, Issue #3, 2016, p. 8)

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